No Ocean No Us: How SDG14 touches all life on the planet

By Chris Gorell Barnes.

In celebration of World Ocean Day 2023, we look back at where oceans were on the UN’s Sustainable Development Goal’s agenda when we first started in 2019 to highlight how this year’s theme ‘Planet Ocean: Tides are Changing’ has evolved over the last four years. We believe, indeed we as humans need this to be true, that oceans should be front and centre of wherever your Sustainable Development Goal preference lies.

Dive Deeper

In 2019, the total commitment to SDG14: Life Below Water was US$1.92bn, making it the least funded SDG, according to the SDG Financing Lab. And, according to Marine Policy, to make a difference an annual investment in oceans needs to be US$174.5 billion.

The WHY is obvious. Oceans cover more than 70% of the planet, produce at least 50% of the oxygen and absorb at least 25% of the atmospheric CO₂. The WHAT can be seen by looking at the SDGs and how they are linked to Life Below Water. SDG14 touches almost every other SDG, which we believe means investing in a sustainable regenerative ocean ecosystem is a triple win for people, planet, and economy.

GOAL 1: No Poverty: More than three billion people rely on the ocean for their livelihoods, the vast majority in developing countries, according to OECD. Investing in sustainable aquaculture, for example, can make a significant socioeconomic contribution in coastal and rural communities.

GOAL 2: Zero Hunger: More than 3.3 billion people around the world get at least 20% of their daily animal protein intake from fish, according to FAO. Better management of global fisheries could produce 16 million tonnes more seafood annually, according to State of World Fisheries and Aquaculture. This is why the Ocean 14 Capital Fund invested in SyAqua, Tilabras and MITO.

GOAL 3: Good Health and Well-being: Prochlorococcus and other ocean phytoplankton are responsible for 70% of Earth’s oxygen production, according to National Geographic.

GOAL 5: Gender Equality: Globally, women occupy only 20% of the workforce in fishing and aquaculture and additionally they tend to hold lower paid jobs in the fishing industry, according to OECD.

GOAL 6: Clean Water and Sanitation: Some 80% of pollution, including plastics, fertiliser and pesticides, to the marine environment comes from the land, according to NOAA.

GOAL 7: Affordable and Clean Energy: Marine energy – also referred to as ocean energy, ocean power and marine hydrokinetic energy – is power generated from ocean waves, currents, tides, and temperature changes. The global ocean energy market is predicted to be worth $4.8 billion by 2030.

GOAL 8: Decent Work and Economic Growth: The value of the ocean’s asset base is $24 trillion, while the annual value of goods and services produced from ocean-related economic activities is $2.5 trillion and it is estimated that by 2030, 40 million people will be employed in ocean-based industries, according to a 2015 WWF report.

GOAL 9: Industry, Innovation and Infrastructure: Ocean innovation in science and technology will be key to driving the investment required to support a thriving blue economy. One of the fund’s investments, AION, a spinoff of AkerBioMarine focused on plastic circularity and circular technology, has just signed a memorandum of understanding with Microsoft to explore opportunities for joint innovation and co-selling related to digital traceability of circular plastic products.

GOAL 11: Sustainable Cities and Communities: Sea levels could rise by 40 to 63 centimetres by 2100 according to IPCC and this will impact coastal cities. According to projections, 70% of the people that will be affected by rising sea levels are located in just eight Asian countries: China, Bangladesh, India, Vietnam, Indonesia, Thailand, the Philippines, and Japan with 360 million people affected.

GOAL 12: Responsible Consumption and Production: Plastic waste (at least 14 million tons of plastic end up in the ocean every year); overfishing (Nearly 80% of the world’s fisheries that are already fully exploited, over-exploited, depleted, or in a state of collapse); and chemical pollution are all areas where ocean innovation can help.

GOAL 13: Climate Action: “The climate crisis and the ocean are inextricably linked, and even one and the same. You cannot solve the problem of the climate crisis without solving the problem of the ocean” to quote John Kerry, the US Special Presidential Envoy for Climate.

The Earth’s oceans are carbon sinks absorbing 31% of excess carbon and more than 90% of the excess heat we produce. This excess heat is responsible for warming, increased moisture and increased intensity in winds and storms; it is also behind the increased level of flooding that is occurring globally, so as we wrote here, it is time to join the climate-ocean dots.

GOAL 15: Life on Land: Biodiversity both on land and marine life is at risk due to pollution, global warming, and human impact on ecosystems. Biodiversity is the basis for, among many things, food, water, oxygen, carbon dioxide removal, medicine; a stable climate and economic growth and according to the World Economic Forum’s Global Risk Report 2022, biodiversity loss has been ranked as the third most severe threat humanity will face in the next 10 years.

We have recently had two major steps forward: COP 15’s adoption of the Kunming-Montreal Global Biodiversity Framework (‘30×30’) to ensure that 30%of areas of degraded terrestrial, inland water, and coastal and marine ecosystems are under effective restoration by 2030 and the landmark Biodiversity Beyond National Jurisdiction Treaty of the High Seas allowing 30% of oceans to be protected.

If we look hard links to all the SDGs and oceans can be found, but just these 12 shows how important the ocean is to all aspects of life on this planet. So the WHERE is everywhere. The ocean may cover more than 70% of the earth’s surface, but its edges touch land through mangroves, fishing, and as we mentioned coastal communities.

The HOW of investing in the blue economy is something we will touch more on in our upcoming blog on ocean natural capital, but blue bonds and ocean-themed investment funds are both starting to take hold, and with more than 80% of the world’s carbon is circulating through the ocean, blue carbon credits, as we wrote here, is certainly a viable possibility.

And finally the WHEN is NOW. Since we started, the first close of Ocean 14 Capital Fund saw investors such as European Investment Fund, Chr. Augustinus Fabrikker, Builders Initiative and Minderoo Foundation join us on the journey. Since then, we have also partnered with Constitutional Reserve Fund of Monaco and Ingka Investments, the investment arm of Ingka Group which represents the largest IKEA retailer.

We are at the tipping point of being able to limit global warming, and we need to achieve carbon emissions reduction at scale and speed, not to mention set in place biodiversity safeguards through sustainable and regenerative aquaculture practises.

This is the year to join the dots and put the ocean centre-stage for a just and equitable transition to net zero, and provide the environment for biodiversity the source of our livelihoods to thrive. Let’s not forget: no ocean, no us!

Image: Art by Louis Masai (Photo Credit: Niki Natarajan)