Towards a sustainable blue economy

Aisha Ghoneimy
Friday 13 May 2022

The blue economy is now one of the main drivers of sustainable development, with Egypt being well placed to reap its benefits.


The “blue economy” has been widely advocated as a strategy for safeguarding the world’s oceans and water resources and is a concept that originated from the UN Conference on Sustainable Development held in Rio de Janeiro in Brazil in 2012. The UN there defined the blue economy as an ocean economy that aims at “the improvement of human well-being and social equity, while significantly reducing environmental risks and ecological scarcities.”

The World Bank has defined it as “the sustainable use of ocean resources for economic growth, improved livelihoods, and jobs while preserving the health of ocean ecosystems.” 

According to the World Bank, the blue economy generates around $83 billion for the global economy and employs more than three billion individuals around the world, with these numbers expected to double by 2030. Moreover, the sustainable use of water resources contributes to preserving biodiversity, combats overfishing and climate change, and expands marine and coastal tourism activities. It can also help to criminalise marine pollution arising from mineral, oil and gas extraction activities and from shipping and transport.

The UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) say that economic development should be both inclusive and environmentally sustainable and should consider its economic, social, and environmental dimensions. Among the other aims of the SDGs is the aim to conserve and sustainably use the world’s oceans, seas, and marine resources, to reduce marine pollution, regulate fishing, end overfishing and illegal fishing, and preserve coastal and marine areas. In this context, the blue economy aims to increase the economic benefits accruing to developing and least developed countries from the sustainable use of marine resources and strengthen the means of their implementation, including by increasing scientific knowledge and the transfer of technology.

The world’s seas and oceans represent about 70 per cent of the surface of the planet, and they contribute to the movement of international trade and navigation, in addition to being an important source of food and natural resources and a catalyst for economic activity. However, according to a report released by the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change in 2019, the world’s oceans have absorbed more than 90 per cent of the heat caused by global warming at an accelerating rate since the 1970s, and this has contributed to increasing levels of acidity, lower oxygen levels, and the decline of marine life, as well as the continuing threat posed by sea-level rises to coastal areas. 

The UN has declared 2021 to 2030 as the Decade of Ocean Science for Sustainable Development with the aim of supporting efforts to reverse declines in the health of the world’s oceans and to gather stakeholders worldwide behind a common framework. 

In the light of the above, the blue economy is now among the main drivers of sustainable development, and Egypt attaches great importance to supporting a sustainable blue economy with a view to mitigating the challenges of climate change and achieving the SDGs, particularly with regard to preserving biodiversity and ecosystem services, combating marine pollution of all kinds, and maintaining an ecological balance in the seas, oceans, and coastal areas. 

This would contribute to reducing greenhouse-gas emissions and to the building of a low-carbon economy. Egypt is also promoting efforts to reduce emissions in the shipping sector as part of its contribution to the implementation of the 2015 Paris Agreement on Climate Change and achieving sustainable development.

 Egypt possesses a wealth of diverse water resources and has many competitive advantages, thanks to its geographical location. It has 4,000 km of beaches on the Red and Mediterranean Seas, and the Suez Canal is one of the most important international shipping lanes. Egypt’s Nile River and 60 ports make the country’s economy an example to others that depend on the blue economy to achieve sustainable development through the optimal use of water resources.

Egypt has also taken a leading role regionally and internationally in protecting the environment and sustaining biodiversity, as well as in mobilising efforts and initiatives to confront climate change. These efforts will culminate in its hosting of the 27th Conference of the Parties to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (COP27) to be held in Sharm El-Sheikh in November 2022. 

On both the domestic and international levels, Egypt has taken steps to achieve environmentally friendly sustainable development, mitigate the challenges of climate change, achieve global leadership in the field of sustainable development, the green economy, and the blue economy through proper planning and management aiming to reduce carbon emissions, achieve sustainable economic growth, and preserve natural resources and ecosystems. 

On the domestic level, it launched a National Climate Change Strategy 2050 as part of its participation in the COP26 conference held in Scotland last year. The policies and objectives of this strategy are complementary to the country’s development efforts and to its recovery from the effects of the global Covid-19 pandemic.

Egyptian ports are being transformed into logistics centres for loading and unloading, services, packaging, re-exporting, manufacturing, and the maintenance of ships and heavy and light marine industries. Beach tourism and cruise tourism from Cairo to Aswan down the Nile and from Rashid and Damietta in the Mediterranean Sea are being developed to exploit the North Coast and Matrouh area, along with yacht tourism, diving and fishing. 

Valuable discoveries in Egyptian territorial waters have been made of oil and natural gas, contributing to a major economic boom. Alexandria was also chosen as the host of the Blue Economy Forum, a major international conference that has helped to enhance opportunities for foreign direct investment flows in water resources, giving added value to the Egyptian economy.

On the international level, during Egypt’s presidency of the Conference of the Parties to the UN Convention on Biological Diversity, the country worked to launch a negotiating path that would lead to new goals for the protection of nature, among them the protection of the world’s seas and oceans. There is also Egypt’s active participation in ongoing consultations on the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea, with a view to drawing up a new legal instrument to protect biodiversity in marine areas beyond national jurisdictions. 

Last but not least, Egypt’s Vision 2030 Strategy has placed the environmental dimension at the centre of all development efforts in order to promote the sustainability of natural resources and support the fairness of their use and their optimal exploitation in such a way as to guarantee the rights of future generations, diversify production sources and economic activities, and contribute to supporting competitiveness, providing new job opportunities, alleviating poverty, and achieving social justice while providing a clean, healthy, and safe environment for every Egyptian citizen. 

Egypt’s National Climate Change Strategy 2050 aims to plan and manage climate change impacts at various levels and support the achievement of the SDGs and the goals of the Egypt Vision 2030 Strategy by adopting a flexible and low-emissions approach that will address the effects and repercussions of climate change effectively, while contributing to improving the quality of life and achieving sustainable inclusive economic growth and development.

The strategy is intended to bolster the conservation of natural resources and ecosystems, while strengthening Egypt’s leadership at the regional and international level in the field of climate change.

* The writer is a member of the Faculty of Economics and Political Science at Cairo University.

*A version of this article appears in print in the 12 May, 2022 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly.

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