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The Blue Economy comes home to the Pacific

29 August 2017

Blog by Jeff Ardron, Adviser on Ocean Governance at the Commonwealth

In the claustrophobic four walls of a land-locked classroom, somewhere in my distant past, I was taught that ‘Earth’ is actually mostly ocean. But when you are living in the largest, most mind-boggling enormous ocean basin of them all, it is so obvious that no one would think to teach it. Pacific Islanders truly are people of the ocean, with much to teach us land-lubbers.

The ‘Blue Economy’ is a term that appears to have been invented independently by both Pacific Islanders and the colourful German entrepreneur Günter Pauli, and both were recently in attendance at the First High-level Pacific Blue Economy Conference in Suva, Fiji. Hosted by the Pacific Islands Development Forum (PIDF), it was well attended with high-level dignitaries, celebrities like Jean-Michel Cousteau, and 250-300 participants. The Commonwealth Secretariat was also invited, and it was my honour to speak in two separate sessions –one on information needs and another on the Commonwealth’s Blue Charter.

What caught my attention right away was the universally high level of awareness that sustainable ocean development must truly be sustainable. Be it the Prime Minister of Fiji or Tuvalu or Tonga, or any number of other senior ministers in attendance, on this they could all agree. I tried to imagine leaders anywhere else in the world, including Europe with its reputation for being ‘green,’ saying the things I heard here, and no, I could not. Perhaps out of necessity, as the ocean inexorably inches up their shores, Pacific Islanders last week taught me that hope is a mighty sword.

Here, the Commonwealth’s message of regenerative development that helps heal and restore our planet’s life support system, was very well received. Likewise, the Commonwealth’s Blue Charter initiative, which proposes to apply the 16 principles of the Charter of the Commonwealth to ocean development, was also welcomed. Though, after my talk, a few polite islanders (and they all seem to be polite!) quietly pointed out to me that Pacific Islanders have little need of more high-level declarations. What is needed is action… True, so true. The Commonwealth’s Blue Charter must be linked to a programme of actions.

Meanwhile, next week on Samoa, the Pacific Island Forum Leaders will meet. I will be part of a small delegation from the Commonwealth supporting the Secretary-General, again to listen, learn, and figure out where we can best join in. Here in the vast Pacific, like the rest of the Earth’s enormous, but stricken ocean, all hands are needed on deck. Hopefully, in April, when the Commonwealth’s Blue Charter is tabled, CHOGM will agree.

Photo: Strategic Communications Unit, PIDF Secretariat.