The “Blue Economy Ministerial Conference” serves as a critical juncture in our collective pursuit of sustainable blue economy development and the design of Vision Delta 2100. As we stand at this crossroads, it is imperative to address the pressing issue of ocean health, which demands regional and international attention, with the active involvement of all stakeholders.
The Indian Ocean Rim Association (IORA) presents itself as an invaluable platform to collectively foster sustainable development in the region while safeguarding the health of our oceans. Member states and dialogue partners must recognize the potential of a sustainable blue economy strategy as a catalyst for our development, quality of life improvement, and overall growth.
While the concept of the Blue Economy may seem relatively new on the global stage, the role of oceans in human civilization’s development dates back to the dawn of time. Oceans continue to play a fundamental role, serving as a conduit for 80% of global trade while sequestering 30% of carbon dioxide emissions generated by global trade and industries. With the advent of cutting-edge technologies, oceans now offer new avenues for marine resource development, from traditional fishing and tourism to emerging sectors like seabed mining and bio-prospecting. Oceans and seas provide livelihoods for millions, including fisheries, aquaculture, shipping, tourism, energy production, and more, generating an estimated $2.5 trillion annually. However, the inherent limitations of individual economies hinder our ability to fully harness economies of scale and advanced technologies. Collaboration and partnership among nations offer the solution to this challenge, paving the way for sustainable and significant “Blue Growth.”
Yet, a daunting problem looms: we are depositing a staggering 8 million tons of plastic into our oceans every year. At this rate, it is projected that by 2050, there could be more plastic in our oceans than fish. Microplastics and discarded fishing gear are contaminating seawater, endangering marine life, and compromising the natural balance of marine ecosystems. Consumption of these microplastics by marine animals poses a significant threat to their health and ultimately, our own, as contaminated seafood may find its way onto our plates.
To remedy this dire situation, collective action is imperative. We must align our perspectives to exploit the opportunities and confront the challenges of the Blue Economy. Engagement in a Blue Economy must be founded on principles such as mutual trust and respect, equitable mutual benefit, and the sharing of benefits to ensure sustainable and beneficial outcomes for all ocean-centric endeavors. Achieving sustainable and maximized Blue Economy utilization necessitates a robust policy framework, a synergy of public and private initiatives for policy implementation, increased research and development activities, and an acute understanding of environmental sustainability.
Moreover, the Blue Economy is now intricately linked with climate change mitigation, adaptation, and disaster resilience. Coastal ecosystems like mangroves, tidal marshes, and seagrass beds act as natural carbon sinks, absorbing carbon at a higher rate than land-based systems. Coastal habitats such as coral reefs, mangroves, and coastal marshes provide crucial protection against catastrophic events like cyclones and hurricanes.
To realize our vision of a Sustainable Blue Economy, we must remember that the foundation was laid 41 years ago by Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman. The effective implementation of the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) is key, providing the legal framework for all ocean and sea-related activities, including conservation and sustainable resource utilization. IORA’s actions and commitments must align with this framework, leading us toward the achievement of Sustainable Development Goals and National Determined Contribution commitments. A significant portion of global waters lies beyond national jurisdiction, necessitating additional attention and the cultivation of skills and knowledge. Developing countries can acquire these skills and knowledge through innovation and research conducted collaboratively by universities, research institutions, and think-tank organizations.
Disturbingly, the UN Food and Agriculture Organization reports that 85% of global fish stocks are either overexploited, depleted, or recovering from depletion. To promote sustainable and responsible fisheries management and development, IORA should embark on joint capacity-building projects and information sharing on aquaculture. This is crucial to addressing food security and combating illegal, unreported, and unregulated (IUU) fishing in the Indian Ocean region. Additionally, IORA should take a leading role in addressing maritime piracy, armed robbery, human trafficking by sea, and illegal arms trafficking. Achieving this requires a shared understanding of maritime governance and its pragmatic application through coordinated efforts.
In conclusion, the Blue Economy Conference offers a unique opportunity to translate our shared aspirations into practical actions that will secure a healthy ocean for future generations. It is a chance to forge greater cooperation in areas such as marine fisheries, shipping, seabed exploration, and renewable energy, all contributing to a sustainable Blue Economy in the region. Our collective actions today will shape our future. Bangladesh remains steadfast in its commitment to align its development with IORA’s Concord and Plan of Action. We call upon IORA member states and dialogue partners to formulate and implement projects for economic cooperation, trade facilitation, promotion of foreign investment, scientific and technological exchanges, marine tourism, and the adoption of the Dhaka Declaration. By doing so, we can maximize opportunities, expand networks, and reap mutually beneficial rewards in our pursuit of a sustainable Blue Economy.
Dr. A.K. Abdul Momen, MP, Hon’ble Foreign Minister, GoB
PhD & MBA (USA), MPA (Harvard), LLB, MA, BA (Hons), Dhaka University