Pollution and overfishing erode $24 trillion ocean economy

Pollution and overfishing erode $24 trillion ocean economy

Bottles lined up on the ocean floor
FlickrSean Nash
If oceans were a nation, they would comprise the seventh largest economy in the world—but they are in a tenuous position.

The world's oceans produce goods and services worth nearly as much as the economy of the U.K., but its resources are being over-exploited, polluted and eroded, according to the latest natural capital report from WWF.

The new study stated the economic value of the ocean is valued at more than $24 trillion and the range of goods and services that flow from coastal and marine environments can be valued conservatively at $2.5 trillion a year. If the ocean were a national economy, it would be the seventh largest economy in the world, just behind the U.K. and ahead of Brazil in GDP rankings.

But the economic figures exclude the role oceans play in climate regulation and offshore oil, gas and wind energy, so WWF said the true financial value of ocean-based services are likely to be higher still.

Oceans of trouble

The report, written by WWF with Professor Ove Hoegh-Guldberg at the University of Queensland and the Boston Consulting Group, stated that ocean assets are being at best ignored and at worst destroyed by overfishing, pollution and acidification.

It argues the oceans are particularly vulnerable, as more than two-thirds of its value relies on healthy conditions to maintain its annual economic output. For example, the report warned coral reefs — critical for replenishing fish stocks, driving tourism and protecting coastlines — will disappear by 2050 at current rates of temperature rise.

Douglas Beal, partner and managing director at the Boston Consulting Group, said the report shows what is at stake in economic terms. "We hope this serves as a call for business leaders and policymakers to make wiser, more calculated decisions when it comes to shaping the future of our collective ocean economy," he said.

A call for U.N. involvement

The report stated a global deal on climate change at the end of this year will be crucial to protecting oceans and also argued ocean recovery should be embedded throughout the U.N.'s Sustainable Development Goals, which are expected to be decided in the autumn. The report also called for governments and industry to actually deliver on pledges they already have made to manage coastal and marine protected areas.

"Our oceans are a climate regulator and carbon sink, supporting future global economic growth, as well as providing critical goods and services that underpin the well-being of billions of people. But rising temperatures and increased acidification put all this at risk," said David Nussbaum, chief executive of WWF-UK.

"We should recognize the role our oceans play as an important business asset that requires sustainable management and investment — and governments should fully support and implement the U.N. Sustainable Development Goal on the ocean."

This article first appeared at BusinessGreen.