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Kenya hosts world’s first Sustainable Blue Economy Conference

By Nicole du Plessis, SAEON Egagasini Node
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Over 10 000 delegates descended on the Kenyan capital of Nairobi in November 2018 to participate in the first Sustainable Blue Economy Conference, co-hosted with the governments of Canada and Japan and co-sponsored by South Africa.

The theme of the conference was “The Blue Economy and the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development”.

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Members of the SA IORAG at the first Sustainable Blue Economy Conference, Nairobi, Kenya, November 2018. From left: Prof. Ken Findlay (CPUT), Nicole du Plessis (SAEON), Dr Gilbert Siko (DST) and Selby Modiba (DST).

While there have been a number of high-level conferences focused on the ocean, such as the United Nations Oceans Conference held in 2017 and the annual Our Ocean Conference (2018 saw the event held for the fifth time; hosted by Indonesia), this has been the first event focused on the ocean from the perspective of the Blue Economy. The Blue Economy is not only about increasing economic growth, but also about maintaining healthy oceans and fostering social equity.

Decade of the Ocean

This conference was aimed at engaging with the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and creating momentum in the lead up to the Decade of the Ocean 2021–2030.

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Babalwa Siswana outside the first Sustainable Blue Economy Conference venue. Ms Siswana is a PhD canditate at Nelson Mandela University, intern at HSRC and part of the SA IORAG Trade and Investment Facilitation Focus Group.

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Nhlanhla Ginindza is a PhD candidate at the University of the Western Cape. His research is focused on the role of small-scale fishing on food security and livelihoods in small coastal communities in the Western Cape.

The South African Chapter of the Indian Ocean Rim Academic Group (SA IORAG) was represented by Ms Nicole du Plessis (SA IORAG Coordinator; SAEON), Mr KGame Molope (North West University), Prof. Ken Findlay (Cape Peninsula University of Technology), Ms Babalwa Siswana (Human Sciences Research Council) and Mr Nhlanhla Ginindza (University of the Western Cape). Officials from the Department of Science and Technology who are part of the SA IORAG Steering Committee, were represented by Mr Cecil Masoka, Mr Selby Modiba and Dr Gilbert Siko.

Oceans economies

The purpose of the event was to bring together all stakeholders with an interest in the development of oceans economies, which is seen as the next frontier for tackling socio-economic challenges. Delegates consisted of government, the private sector, civil organisations and academia, with events focused around each of these stakeholder groups.

The conference was opened by Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta, who indicated his excitement for “the enormous economic prospects of the blue economy”, but also recognised the “challenges of sustainable use” of the ocean. Other Heads of State included Presidents Yoweri Museveni (Uganda), Filipe Nyusi (Mozambique), Abdullahi Mohamed (Somalia), Dr Ali Mohammed Shein (Zanzibar) and Danny Faure (Seychelles).

South Africa, through the Department of Environmental Affairs, hosted one of the first side-events of the conference titled "Operation Phakisa: oceans economy maximising economic opportunities through sustainable development". While this is not being promoted by the South African Government as a Blue Economy (with the theme being “Unlocking the economic potential of South Africa's oceans”), presentations by foreign participants represented South Africa’s model as such due to the inclusion of the Focus Area on Marine Protection Services and Ocean Governance.

Through attending a number of fascinating sessions and side events, it became clear that there was a major difference in what "Blue Economy" means for governments, business and academia as well as between Africa (or developing states) and developed states. It will be interesting to see in coming years how the differing economic, social and environmental challenges are resolved. So, while there was a session on "Demystifying the Blue Economy", it is as mystifying as ever.

The meeting was concluded with the ‘Nairobi Statement of Intent on Advancing the Global Sustainable Blue Economy’, which summarises the commitments made by the various governments and organisations in attendance. A total of 191 commitments were made, grouped into 10 themes consisting of Plastics and waste management; Marine and water resources protection; Partnerships; Infrastructure; Policy and regulatory measures; Private sector support; Biodiversity and climate change; Technical assistance and capacity building; Fisheries development; and Inclusivity. Monetary commitments made during the conference were valued at over USD 172 billion.

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Members of the South African Government delegation hosted a session highlighting progress made through Oceans Phakisa.

In his closing statement on the last day of the conference, President Kenyatta noted that, “Managing oceans, lakes and seas is complex and it requires us all to put long-term common interests above short-term self-interest. Failing that, our waters could easily become the tragedy of the commons of the 21st century”.

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