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Africa leads in the pursuit of a sustainable ocean economy

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Artisanal fishermen and women anchor close to a Mauritian beach, where fish are heavily exploited. © Manoj Nawoor

African coastal countries and Small Island Developing States (SIDS) rely heavily on fishing and related employment, yet these livelihoods are all under threat due to declining fish stocks. Coastal erosion and shoreline habitat loss have taken a toll on poor coastal communities that are the most vulnerable to climate change while having contributed to the climate change problem the least. There are more storms, more floods and more droughts than ever previously recorded.
In many African countries, the ocean economy contributes one-quarter of all revenues and one-third of export revenues. And as coastal populations grow, overfishing, illegal fishing, pollution and unsustainable tourism degrade marine and coastal biodiversity and worsen poverty.

Yet today, on the heels of my trip to Mauritius, a majestic island nation that has lost 11 percent of its coastline to severe erosion in recent decades, I want to tell you why I’m optimistic. Why I have a sense of hope.
We all know it’s not every day that governments, development partners and members of the private sector find a unified voice, but that’s what just happened at Towards COP22: African Ministerial Conference on Ocean Economies and Climate Change hosted by the government of Mauritius.  
Building on the momentum of COP21 and the Africa Climate Business Plan (ACBP), Africa is raising its voice to protect the huge assets and resources of coastal countries and island states while building a climate-smart ocean economy.  It may be hard to reconcile these two, but it’s not impossible. We just took one more step towards COP22.
Just a week prior to the Conference, the Government of Kenya along with the Government of Japan, GiZ, AU-IBAR and the World Bank organized an event, “Embracing Blue Economy for Africa’s Accelerated Development” on the side of the sixth Tokyo International Conference on Africa’s Development (TICAD VI) in Nairobi, Kenya. Over 200 participants representing six Cabinet Secretaries from Kenya, Governors and PSs from Kenya, ministers from Liberia, Sierra Leone and Uganda, Ambassadors to Kenya from India and the US, representatives from AU-IBAR, UNECA, EU, Germany, Japan, NGOs, media and academic/research institutions participated in this daylong event. The event raised awareness about the importance of Blue Economy for growth, job creation and poverty alleviation. But more importantly, the event showed a strong political commitment by the governments of African countries for developing a robust and sustainable Blue Economy for Africa.   
 Chief fisherman Don Banchoo, 60, recalls when the Indian Ocean had so much fish

The Mauritius conference, which was covered by at least 30 journalists from affected countries, helped elevate awareness of decision-makers on how to harness Africa’s blue potential through innovative investments in sustainable fishery management, aquaculture, green solutions for coastal resilience, and spatial coastal management approaches. Government ministers underscored their commitments to climate-smart ocean economy development, such as seaport infrastructure design that does not aggravate coastal erosion, and fishing that gives stocks time to recover, to name two examples, so that countries do not draw their natural capital down.
In the “Mauritius Communique,” a call to action, the conference participants agreed on a common vision of a prosperous, resilient and inclusive Africa—a continent that will lead in the pursuit of climate-smart ocean economies. The World Bank, together with the African Development Bank and FAO, is preparing a package of financial and technical assistance to support the development of sustainable ocean economies.

While the ocean warms and the seas rise, it has become clear to all, governments, scientists, coastal communities and the civil society that the oceans are a huge untapped resource in the greatest peril. A climate-smart ocean economy (already the 7th largest in the world if the oceans were a country) holds tremendous opportunities for a sustainable African renaissance.
Africa offers a strong, collective voice, demonstrating important leadership in the coastal space. Africa owns a large piece of the tremendous wealth of the ocean, and the continent is taking this ownership to heart.


Jamal Saghir

Professor of Practice, Institute for the Study of International Development, McGill University

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