The interdependencies between the tourism industry and the world’s oceans are inextricable. More than 80% of all global tourism is aggregated in coastal regions, and the small island developing nations which play host to these experiences are also often among the most severely impacted by the negative effects of climate change.
At the most recent United Nations Ocean Conference (UNOC) in Lisbon in June, blue economy mobilization platform NOAH Regen (NOAH) and the United Nations World Tourism Organization (UNWTO) hosted a side-event through Forum Oceano to discuss a host of breakthrough innovations in the ocean conservation finance sector.
Blue carbon, according to the United States Geological Survey, refers to the “atmospheric carbon, particularly carbon dioxide, or CO2, […] that […] is absorbed and stored in coastal and oceanic ecosystems.” From mangroves to kelp forests, marine ecosystems harbor the ability to sequester more carbon per unit area than terrestrial forests, making them a particularly potent tool for the carbon offsetting industry. Given that less than 3% of the world’s oceans have been designated Marine Protected Areas (MPAs), however, harnessing support for such sequestration efforts has proven difficult.
“The main problem at the moment is that we’re missing trillions of dollars to protect our oceans and nature in general,” shared Michael Mathres, CEO of conservation capital group FUND Nature, which specializes in conservation finance research and product design. “What we’re doing is bridging what the capital markets have, which is the capital, the trillions of dollars, and the nature assets, which at the moment are called carbon credits. And by doing that, you’ll be able to unlock the eight to nine trillion dollars that you need to solve this problem.”
According to Regenerative Travel CEO Amanda Ho, as the tourism sector embraces more low carbon operations, investments in blue carbon markets can support mitigating residual emissions, while unlocking opportunities and finance to further support conservation.
“The travel industry has to move beyond sustainability to regeneration,” Ho shared at the UNOC, “Being green is doing no harm, being sustainable is reaching net neutrality, but regeneration is actually making it better.”
Other promising policy takeaways from the conference, which brought together more than 6,000 participants, including 24 Heads of State and Government and over 2,000 representatives of civil society, included:
- A newly-expanded Dominican Republic MPA, extending the nation’s protected marine areas to 30% by 2030, in line with the UN’s larger 30×30 initiative
- Growing support for a moratorium on deep seabed-mining, with new signatories from countries including Palau, Fiji, and the Solomon Islands
- Substantial investment pledges from the likes of Sweden and the European Investment Bank to support marine-based scientific innovation as well as initiatives to improve climate resilience and water management
Speaking at the NOAH and UNTWO side-event, Zoritsa Urosevic, Executive Director of UNWTO, summed up the necessity of the tourism sector to embrace such positive developments neatly:
“I think we need to understand that tourism is based on nature and culture, and that the planet that sustains us provides the opportunity to develop an economic sector, but that economic sector of course has a footprint. And I think that because we represent approximately 8% of global carbon emissions, we do have the obligation to preserve the resources that are providing us this opportunity.”