The Ocean Conference: Our Oceans Our Future
At the opening ceremony for the Ocean Conference, held from June 5th to 9th 2017, the UN Secretary General stated that:
“the health of our oceans and seas require us to put aside short-term national gain, to avoid long-term global catastrophe. Conserving our oceans and using them sustainably is preserving life itself.”
The solutions-focused Conference, which aimed to be a “game changer” for the implementation of Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) 14, was hosted by Fiji and Sweden at the UN Headquarters in New York. Partnerships at all levels, national and global, were encouraged at the Conference which saw engagement from all relevant stakeholders interested in conserving and sustainably using the oceans, seas and marine resources (SDG 14).
The Caribbean Community (CARICOM) a group of twenty countries in the Latin America and Caribbean region, was represented by various Member States and institutions. CARICOM’s agenda at the Conference included: “plastic bag and polystyrene bans, establishment of marine protected areas, sustainable fishing practices including community driven practices, establishment of national ocean governance policies and mechanisms, and adoption of public policies to advance sustainable ocean-based economies”.
Grenada’s Blue Economy
One CARICOM country set itself apart. Grenada either hosted or was a partner in half of the Side Events at which CARICOM Member States participated. In this regard, it was the most active CARICOM Member State at the Conference. Grenada’s agenda seemed to be that of encouraging blue growth, which refers to the transition from an unsustainable ocean economy to a sustainable one. Blue growth is a part of the blue economy concept which speaks to utilizing the oceans for economic gain without compromising the integrity of the oceans. In other words, in a blue economy, the ocean is used sustainably.
Speaking at “Partnership Dialogue 2: Managing, protecting, conserving and restoring marine and coastal ecosystems”, His Excellency Dr. Spencer Thomas, highlighted that development can be de-coupled from environmental degradation. Reasons why the Government of Grenada holds such sentiments were expounded upon by Prime Minister Dr Keith Mitchell,
“To position ourselves to keep more economic benefits at home, SIDS [Small Island Development State]and LDCS [Lesser Developed Countries] cannot wait for technology transfer handouts. We need to build on our own institutions, our own scientists, our own intellectual properties, and our own entrepreneurs. Failing to do so can be another generation of lost opportunities, and we have lost enough already.”
Grenada registered six voluntary commitments to assist with achieving SDG 14. Of course, it was the first CARICOM Member State to register a commitment. The voluntary commitments include: implementing ecosystem based adaptation approached for mangrove and coral reef restoration, integrated management of marine and coastal resources, public education on oceans through murals, reducing ocean plastic, and conserving nearshore marine environment and the sustainable development of its coastline. Grenada is the first country in the world to initiate a national masterplan for blue growth. They began in 2014 and they don’t plan on stopping now.
You may wonder, how such a small country can be doing such big things. It is true that Grenada’s ocean space is 80 times larger than its land space, and according to the Prime Minister, that’s an advantage. Grenada has the characteristic struggles of a SIDS – small land masses, low populations, and similar macroeconomic features – low growth rate, high cost of living, high unemployment rate, and susceptibility to natural disasters such as hurricanes, earthquakes, and volcanoes. However, the country does not position itself as a victim of circumstances, but an overcomer.
In May 2016 Grenada hosted the “Blue Week”, to advance the blue growth agenda and promote investment in the blue economy. The Blue Innovation Institute, a key component of Grenada’s masterplan, was born with the hope of developing practical solutions for blue financing including blue bonds, debt-for-nature swaps, blue insurance, and blue impact investment schemes.
Grenada makes the transition to a blue economy seem easy. However, they appear to have something other CARICOM Member states lack – political will. Grenadian politicians don’t just talk, they act. Grenada is where policy meets implementation. CARICOM policy makers were interviewed concerning hindrances to environmental mainstreaming, and among political will, they also cited a lack of research to guide policy development, and institutional barriers as a result of a lack of cross-sectoral collaboration. These and other issues are identified and dealt within Grenada’s master plan for blue growth. Sustainable development is a necessity for small island developing states, and an opportunity for large ocean island states.
We have the opportunity to spice it up, and follow Grenada.