The blue economy: A historic opportunity for SIDS

A new economic model shares the ocean's many benefits

May 14, 2024
Woman harvests seaweed

At SIDS4 many countries may consider how the blue economy can support the ambitious plan of action emerging from the conference and help reach the Sustainable Development Goals.

Photo: UNDP Timor-Leste

Small Island Developing States (SIDS) have traditionally advocated for blue economies. Since in the discussions leading up to 1992 Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro, this group of countries consistently highlighted the importance of sustainable use of marine resources, to broaden the green economy narrative. The importance of marine and coastal resources to SIDS is clear and it has now been captured in diverse international fora. As the leaders of the SIDS and their partners gather in Antigua and Barbuda for the 4th International Conference on SIDS (SIDS4), many countries may consider how blue economy can support the ambitious plan of action emerging from the conference and help attain the Sustainable Development Goals

The blue economy offers an approach to sustainable development better suited to SIDS circumstances, constraints, and challenges. The limited offer of resource provisions in SIDS to promote sustainable development may be alleviated by the use of the seas, the oceans, and the coastal areas to support social progress and economic growth without putting environmental sustainability at risk. It encompasses the value of nature in all aspects of  economic activity such as planning, infrastructure development, trade, travel, renewable resource exploitation, energy production and consumption, and respecting environmental boundaries. A sustainable blue economy is one of the next big global investment markets, and SIDS have the potential to be large blue sustainable economies.

The blue economy represents a new development model, addressing equity in access to oceans' resources; sharing the benefits from marine resources and offering the opportunity for re-investment in human development and the alleviation of national debt. The potential of seas and oceans to meet sustainable development needs is immense and the potential to support the advance of the SDGs is also enormous. 

Woman holds mangrove plant

The Timor-Leste government is prioritizing a Blue Economy Policy to guide sustainable use of ocean resources.

Photo: UNDP Timor-Leste

The paradigm of blue economy underlies a renovated sustainable development framework. SIDS and other countries have adopted dedicated plans, policies, frameworks, and strategies, recognizing seas, oceans, and coastal areas as “development spaces”. The Timor-Leste government is prioritizing a Timor-Leste Blue Economy Policy to guide sustainable use of ocean resources, while ensuring conservation, emphasizing the need for close cooperation among ministries and the public sector. 

Countries working on the vision on blue economy face complex and multi-dimensional challenges that require and interdisciplinary approach to increase awareness about marine ecosystem conservation, and to build infrastructure, strengthen human capacities, develop blue economy policies and establish institutional frameworks. It also requires new tools to analyze how economies can relate to marine and coastal ecosystems, along with processes and data. While the contribution of marine biotechnology can be critical - for the valorization of marine resources and the development of new value chains - social sciences also have an important role to play to build a just and inclusive blue economy. Knowledge infrastructure will be pivotal for SIDS to chart their own blue economy pathways and ensure effective exchange and well as the transfer of technology and know-how from partners.   

Woman stands in seaweed farm at sunset

The Government of Timor-Leste is planning to establish a Marine Education Centre to support both research and education.

Photo: UNDP Timor-Leste

In order to advance specialized knowledge related to blue economy, the Government of Timor-Leste is planning to establish a Marine Education Centre to support both research and education. It is important for such knowledge hubs to emerge across SIDS, as some research shows that the knowledge production on blue economy by the SIDS has been lacking and unrepresentative

The importance of oceans and coast for sustainable development has been globally recognized but ongoing trends of exploitation and degradation of marine and coastal ecosystems show that increased joint efforts are required to restore their healthy state. At SIDS4 development countries will certainly renew their appeal for the international community to address sound management of marine and coastal resources across borders. This also indicates that governments and decisionmakers need to join forces to ensure that their policies don’t undermine each other. 

While the international community reaches agreements to fulfill its responsibilities and commitments, SIDS including Timor-Leste, must be now prepared to attain the optimal benefits for their sustainable development from the “blue revolution”, recognizing that oceans and coasts have a major role to play in humanity’s future.