As the global community observed World Oceans Day this week, the sustainability of marine life and the future viability of the ocean economy has been bought into sharp focus. The industry continues to be beset by the degradation of the marine life, which is further exacerbated by the outbreak of the coronavirus.
Without a doubt, the ocean is vital to the world’s economy – it is a source of food, medicines, energy and jobs for millions of people around the world. According to the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), more than 90% of trade globally is conducted via sea routes. However, this important avenue for trade is buckling under the weight of pollution, destructive fishing practices, human rights violations, emissions, rising carbon levels and negligence.
The challenges that beset the ocean industry will continue to grow as the world population grows. Hence, there is a need to act now with renewed vigour and consider new approaches to unlock the industry’s potential and foster economic growth.
So, how can we help the maritime industry to mitigate some of these challenges and foster its sustainability? It is important to note that the industry will not be sustainable on its own – it requires a concerted effort to offset some of the challenges that it is facing.
The full potential of the industry can only be unlocked through broad industry collaboration involving all stakeholders in the entire value chain. By so doing, we enable the reshaping of a fit-for-purpose industry that can continue to create jobs and ensure the sustainability of livelihoods.
In today’s global marketplace, the sustainability of the maritime economy is the critical building block that can anchor economic growth, foster social development and environmental protection for the current and future generation. We recognise the efforts to embrace environmental sustainability across the industry. But today’s realities need more effort in adopting eco-friendly policies as well.
The regulatory environment has the potential to drive greater sustainability. The European Union legislation and the International Maritime Organisation are continuously driving environmental sustainability vision. The onus is on organisations working in this sector to implement and put to practice these policies in order to safeguard the maritime economy.
While supporting international regulations, we can do this in a sensitive manner where we work diligently to encourage investments in sustainable practices rather than cause unwarranted ripple effects in the industry.
Companies and organisations in this space need to tap into available digital solutions, scientific research and innovation. As the industry embrace digitisation, technology applications such as artificial intelligence (AI), robotics and big data can play an enabling role to unlock innovation and stimulate the growth and sustainability of the industry.
A report by the OECD titled: Rethinking Innovation for a Sustainable Ocean Economy found that scientific and technological advances have the potential to enhance knowledge and understanding of marine ecosystems and can improve the ocean industry’s performance.
Through collaboration, the marine industry can develop new ways to contribute towards possible solutions to their long-term sustainability challenges.
Africa can build ocean innovation network centres across the continent, where corporates, various governments, small and medium sized businesses and institutions put their minds together to find solutions by focusing on various initiatives.
While digital solutions hold the promise of propelling many industries into the future, these systems are still fragmented and operate in silos.
To plug this gap, various countries need to develop a data-driven mindset and find new approaches of measuring and monitoring performance through consistent data collection and analysis. As soon as we have this uniform platform in place, we can then be able to do an informed comparative analysis and thereby ascertain what works and what does not.
The maritime industry is different from other industries as it has become used to deal with unforeseen events. The challenges brought by Covid-19 should help us develop our inherent agility that enables us to deal with the crisis effectively. These challenges need all parties to follow international standards and build integrated management strategies. This will create sustainability standards to benefit the industry.
As the lockdown phases are slowly being eased, more needs to be done to ensure environmental sustainability in the maritime industry. Our view is that we need to work in concert to find effective solutions that will enable the industry to become a catalyst that can spur economic development and preserve the maritime ecosystem.
As many governments around the world battle with containing the far-reaching impact of the coronavirus outbreak, it is instructive that we also need to refresh our thinking to deal with some of the issues affecting the maritime environment.
In recent years, the industry has been faced with difficult market conditions. In the Global Maritime Issues Monitor Report of 2018, many leaders conceded that challenges such as cyber theft, terrorism relegated the challenges facing the industry to the back burner. As the world focuses its attention on arresting this pandemic, perhaps this also signals a revisit of the issues facing the industry.
Looking at the continent, maritime issues faced by Africa are no different from other continents. These issues are being dealt with head-on by various organisations and institutions.
We are encouraged by some concerted efforts that we have seen in driving initiatives and raising awareness on maritime environmental sustainability. Some countries have shown positive developments to tackle waste management issues at the ports. In South Africa, the Port Elizabeth Harbour introduced an environmental protection programme, while the Tanzania Ports Authority and Port Abidjan in Cote d’Ivoire are driving port expansion and rehabilitation initiatives to reduce pollution levels and has implemented an effective environmental management system respectively.
The drive for innovation and sustainability is gaining a foothold across industries, and the maritime sector cannot be relegated to a bystander on this journey.