Climate change, Environment, Water

Blue economy solutions exist and it is time for action

The sustainable blue economy represents the integration of sustainable practices and principles within ocean-based economic activities in a manner that fosters economic prosperity, social well-being, and environmental conservation. It acknowledges the resilience of oceans and coastal areas, a thriving marine environment, and the adoption of blue businesses and renewable energy sources in achieving the Sustainable Development Goals for Climate Action (SDG 13) and Life Below Water (SDG 14).

The vast expanse of oceans extends beyond national boundaries, covering two-thirds of the Earth’s surface. Oceans hold a substantial economic value, with annual assets amounting to more than $24 trillion, and at the same time, they have the capacity to produce goods and services worth $2.5 trillion (Ranganathan et al. 2015). Ocean-based industries span multiple sectors, including shipping, fisheries, aquaculture, and tourism, and these play substantial roles in the economies of developing countries. Particularly in East Asia, oceans hold paramount importance as an essential ecosystem and resource base, contributing significantly to 15%–20% of GDP (PEMSEA 2017).

Today, oceans face immense pressures from human activities as we prioritize immediate results at the expense of long-term progress. Local stresses like habitat destruction, overfishing, and marine pollution, combined with the unprecedented effects of climate change, such as rising ocean temperatures, carbon storage in seabeds, and increased acidity levels, are jeopardizing the health and productivity of our oceans. The Ocean Foundation (2023) reports that human activities have contributed to a 30% surge in ocean acidity over the past 2 centuries. As of 2023, 83% of the global carbon cycle is circulated through the ocean, while 50% of coastal habitats account for approximately half of the total carbon sequestered in ocean sediments (Blue Carbon Initiative 2023). These pressures, coupled with an expected increase in the global population to 10 billion by 2050, will undoubtedly escalate global competition for resources, making sustainable ocean management even more critical (World Resources Institute 2018).

Global responsibility for ocean conservation

The ocean, belonging to everyone and no one, has endured excessive exploitation ranging from individual-scale activities to large-scale industrial operations over the centuries. The AR6 Synthesis Report: Climate Change 2023, published by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (2023), has raised concerns about the detrimental impact of climate change and human economic activities on oceans and underscored the need for global responsibility to ensure sustainable development through the conservation and sustainable use of ocean and coastal resources.

Plastic pollution presents an undeniable toll on the ocean environment. The annual cost of plastic pollution is estimated to be as high as $19 billion, encompassing both economic consequences affecting natural assets and the ocean ecosystem, and the government expenses required for cleanup and mitigation efforts (Ocean Cleanup 2023). This highlights the urgency for consolidating economic growth in ocean industries, especially among small island developing states (SIDS), where more than 680 million people are living in low-lying coastal areas. Without a doubt, it is indispensable to preserve the delicate balance of the ocean in contributing to the global economy, livelihoods, a healthy climate, and more.

What can be done to ensure a sustainable blue economy?

Recognizing the urgency in transitioning to a sustainable blue economy, the Asian Development Bank (ADB) has been developing a roadmap to strengthen the existing mechanisms for ocean health and blue economy. In 2019, ADB launched the Action Plan for Healthy Oceans and Sustainable Blue Economies, committing to provide $5 billion in financing and technical assistance by 2024 (ADB 2019). In 2022, ADB developed the Global Blue Bond Guidance for uniformity and transparency of innovative finance mechanisms and started the initial implementation phase of the Blue Pacific Finance Hub (BPFH) with ADB’s 14 Pacific member countries (ADB 2022a, 2022b). Along the way, ADB actively engages other flagship programs that adhere to blue bond standards, including Coastal Resilience, Plastic-free Oceans, Sustainable Seafood, and Ocean Finance.

To effectively support oceans and address the challenges they face, governments, businesses, and individuals can implement key takeaways:

  1. Governments: Prioritize and invest in innovative and inclusive ocean protection by implementing science-based policies and promoting effective policy strategies for advancing the blue economy and environmental sustainability. This encompasses proactively managing climate change impacts on ocean ecosystems, providing incentives for the development of environmentally friendly ocean-based industries, and bringing the perspective of vulnerable regions, coastal communities, and SIDS to the discussion table.
  2. Businesses: Embrace responsible and transparent practices contributing to the greater understanding of sustainable ocean and coastal management. This process entails taking concrete steps to circular economic principles, such as actively minimizing waste pollution, supporting greater shoreline protection, and promoting recycling through innovative practices.
  3. Individuals: Everyone can make a difference in ocean conservation by consuming responsibly and making sustainable choices in daily life, such as by reducing single-use plastics, choosing sustainably sourced seafood, and supporting businesses that produce ocean-friendly and sustainable products. Raising awareness and advocating for ocean protection is the first step in driving positive change.

By implementing actions at these three levels, we can collectively work toward a positive future for our blue planet. It is of utmost importance that we work together to transform our fundamental perspective of oceans, moving away from a mindset centered on exploiting their resources and discarding what we deem unnecessary. We need to recognize oceans as a precious and shared resource, possessing immeasurable value, and support a transition to a climate-resilient and sustainable blue economy that all countries can benefit from. The solutions exist and it is time for action.


Asian Development Bank (ADB). 2019. Action Plan for Healthy Oceans and Sustainable Blue Economies. Manila: ADB (accessed 11 July 2023).
ADB. 2022a. ADB Launches First Blue Bond Incubator to Boost Ocean Investment. 13 April. Manila ADB (accessed 11 July 2023).

ADB. 2022b. Promoting Climate-Resilient and Sustainable Blue Economies: Technical Assistance Report. December. Manila: ADB (accessed 11 July 2023).

Blue Carbon Initiative. 2023. Mitigating Climate Change Through Coastal Conservation. Blue Carbon Initiative (accessed 11 July 2023).

Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. 2023. AR6 Synthesis Report Climate Change 2023  (accessed 11 July 2023).

Ocean Cleanup. 2023. How Does Plastic Enter the Ocean. Ocean Cleanup (accessed 11 July 2023).

Ocean Foundation. 2023. Ocean and Climate Change. Ocean Foundation (accessed 11 July 2023).

Partnerships in Environmental Management for the Seas of East Asia. 2017. Blue Economy: Partnerships in Environmental Management for the Seas of East Asia (accessed 21 August 2023).

Ranganathan J., R. Waite, T. Searchinger, and C. Hanson. 2015. Ocean Wealth Valued at US$24 Trillion, But Declining Fast. 22 April. Worldwide Fund for Nature (accessed 11 July 2023).

World Resources Institute. 2018. How to Sustainably Feed 10 Billion People by 2050, in 21 Charts. 5 December (accessed 11 July 2023).

Preechaya Kittipaisalsilpa

About the Author

Preechaya Kittipaisalsilpa is a capacity building and training associate at ADBI.

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