The UN celebrated the 29th World Oceans Day on 8 June 2021, through a series of virtual conferences celebrating the world’s waterways and to raise awareness of future challenges.

“Many of the benefits that global oceans provide to humankind are being undermined by our own actions, [as] our seas are choking with plastic waste, which can be found also in the deepest ocean trenches,” UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres in his initial remarks. “The theme of this year’s observance, ‘The Ocean Life and Livelihoods’, underscores the importance of oceans for the cultural life and economic survival of communities around the world. Let’s end our war on nature.”

Even though it was attended by personalities from the diplomatic world as well as actors and activists, the Day included conferences specifically tailored to ocean industries’ stakeholders.

The ‘Blue Economy and Private Sector Impact’ conference saw panellists from ocean-related industries such as shipping and offshore discuss what the blue economy means for each sector as well as their priorities for the future.

Here is what we learnt in regards to shipping.

The blue economy is a system view involving different stakeholders

The ocean makes a significant and growing contribution to the global economy, as it drives growth and economic activities, jobs, innovation and business opportunities, explained The Economist Group World Ocean Initiative head Martin Koehring.

“The value of the blue economy is estimated at $2.5tn annually,” he said. “That’s the equivalent of the world’s seventh-largest economies.”

For shipping, in particular, oceans are fundamental as they enable 80% of global trade. According to Sustainable Shipping Initiative head of communications Elizabeth Petit Gonzalez, the blue economy is a system’s view of oceans that aims to achieve sustainable shipping.

“Despite having the lowest carbon footprint of any mode of transportation per tonne transport, shipping accounts for 3% of global greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, decarbonisation is a huge challenge as the industry is only expected to grow”, Petit Gonzalez commented.

“A sustainable shipping industry is a big part of what we need for a sustainable blue economy, both in terms of reducing emission but also addressing and mitigating shipping impact on the oceans.”

The project needs a lot of stakeholders, as it doesn’t only involve decarbonisation but touches upon seafarers’ rights, the impact on coastal communities, transparency and finance.

“All of these areas are really elements of a broader system which can help us see the bigger picture for what a sustainable blue economy can be.”

In shipping, there is a lot of momentum building for the blue economy

Especially as it comes to decarbonisation, the shipping industry has seen a lot of momentum building, with many initiatives exploring how to decarbonise shipping.

“From our perspective, to see the industry coming together around this challenge, it has shown us that it can be done, that change is possible,” continued Petit Gonzalez.

Of course, a lot of work needs to be done to achieve the total decarbonisation of shipping, but the industry’s effort is commendable.

“It’s certainly been inspiring to watch it come together through for example the Getting to Zero Coalition or sustainable finance, which is becoming more and more the topic where we have sustainability loans and bonds which are linked to companies’ decarbonisation targets and performance.”

There is a need for transparency and collaboration across the value chain

Given its global nature, shipping has always struggled when governance was made on a national or regional level.

“A ship will be built in Japan or South Korea and then owned by a company based in Canada that operates under the flag of Panama and travels all over the world with seafarers from India and the Philippines,” she explained. “What we learnt is that governance needs to be global and apply to everyone and need to be multi-stakeholder.”

What is also needed, Petit Gonzalez added, is transparency and collaboration – not only when it comes to sustainability but also seafarers’ rights.

“A sustainable blue economy [needs] to really consider health and wellbeing of its people, tackling the social at the same level as the economic and environmental factors.”