Blue economy forum will boost waters’ potential

Maimunah Sharif

Next week, Kenya will be in the global spotlight as thousands of delegates from around the world gather at the Kenyatta International Convention Centre for the Sustainable Blue Economy Conference.

The United Nations Human Settlements Programme (UN-Habitat) congratulates the Government of Kenya, Canada and Japan for co-hosting the first global conference on the Blue Economy. It is a unique opportunity for the world, especially the United Nations family, to learn how we can sustainably harness, through innovative means, the potential of our beautiful waters, while ensuring people in developing nations are included.

The Blue Economy is a term that stems from the UN Conference on Sustainable Development (Rio+20) held in 2012 where member states pledged to “protect and restore the health, productivity and resilience of oceans and marine ecosystem to maintain their diversity, enabling conservation and sustainable use for present and future”.

It is an emerging concept which encourages better stewardship of our oceans and other blue resources, while at the same time, provides for an inclusive model in which coastal zones, or areas with significant waterbodies, can begin to extend the benefit of those resources to all. Rio+20 helped states develop a common understanding that the world’s oceans and seas require special attention and coordinated action.

Today, coastal and island states are at the forefront of the Blue Economy movement, advocating for solutions tailored to their circumstances, constraints and challenges. Some see the Blue Economy as only including ocean and marine resources; for others, the Blue Economy refers to the sustainable use all water resources (oceans, seas, lakes, rivers and wetlands) for economic growth, improved livelihoods and job creation.  Ninety per cent of world trade goes through port cities and countries. For example, coastal cities in the West Indian Ocean, derive $25 billion per year from tourism, fisheries, coastal agriculture, mining, mariculture, ports and coastal transport sectors (UN Environment, 2009). Cities must therefore recognise, nurture and sustainably manage the value of their natural capital, particularly their waterbodies.

UN-Habitat and its partners support states in harnessing the potential of cities to benefit from the Blue Economy through enhancing sustainable human settlement livelihoods, “green” and “blue” job creation, sustainable housing and infrastructure, waste management, ecological protection and restoration of coastal and waterfront areas.  In Kenya, UN-Habitat provides technical input into Kisumu’s Lakefront Planning Initiative, a project developed to create quality public space along the lakeshore, while ensuring environmental protection, thereby enhancing the investment potential of the city’s central business district.

Urban planning

UN-Habitat strongly advocates for resilient urban planning and design for all human settlements. Low-carbon plans for infrastructure and basic services are needed to promote local economic development and to protect cities from further contributing to environmental degradation.

UN-Habitat is proud to be associated with this first edition of the Sustainable Blue Economy Conference and stands ready to support countries to further explore opportunities to establish the linkages between cities and the Blue Economy, in terms of cities as hotspots of vulnerability, but equally as well as drivers and opportunities for prosperous and sustainable urban development. 

Writer is UN under-secretary general and the Executive Director of the UN-Habitat

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