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Clean up and nurture oceans to capitalize on their riches

By Artur Gushchin | China Daily Global | Updated: 2019-05-08 07:01

The likely tough competition for energy resources and food production in the future will make ocean cluster development vital to sustainable economic growth and mitigation of climate risks. About 80 percent of the world trade is conducted through marine corridors, so we should adopt civilized rules to cultivate oceans and seas and encourage capital to flow into companies that guarantee sustainable growth and good returns.

The sooner China understands the emerging trend and initiates discussions with the leading players in the sector the faster it can build the ground to compete with its Western counterparts.

A competitive ocean policy offers tremendous opportunities in a broad range of sectors, and the most intriguing among them is ocean-based renewable energy where offshore wind is expected to receive a decent boost over the next five years in terms of investments, competence and carbon neutral transition. The industry's ambition to develop offshore wind on market terms requires state aid, loans and projects to attract large-scale investments along with regulations and standards set by the International Maritime Organization.

Clean up and nurture oceans to capitalize on their riches

Since the Chinese economy is shifting from export-led quantitative growth to innovation-led qualitative development, offshore renewable energy should be on its list of lucrative options to create additional value and jobs, as well as to reduce pollution.

Another challenging area is ocean mining, which experts say can yield copper, zinc, gold and rare earths with a preliminary market value of $225 billion. And to succeed in the ocean mining race, China needs to invest in sustainable technology and skilled workforce.

Oceans are a huge source of food, and if their potential is tapped, we could win the battle against global hunger. Countries such as China and India that have huge populations should not only be aware of food security issues, but also create scientific and commercial platforms to guarantee stable and healthy food production.

A third sector that is experiencing a minor revolution is shipping where China has big stakes, as it owns the third-largest fleet of merchant vessels by market value - after Japan and Greece. Digitalization and autonomy are two core components of shipping that will pick up speed in the years to come. And given the ability of Chinese companies to adapt to changes, China can reserve a spot among the leading group providing digital solutions.

A number of countries are making rapid progress in autonomous shipping technology, which by 2050 could become a game changer in the industry. China should therefore build a comprehensive national system for autonomous shipping technology, additive printing, sensor innovation and energy efficiency to consolidate its position in the global shipping industry. And a crucial part of the project should be improving maritime education with focus on digitalization and sustainable retraining.

But the above-mentioned measures cannot be implemented without guaranteeing the health of the oceans. Every year, 8 million tons of plastic end up in the ocean. The scenario becomes scarier with the projection that the amount could quadruple by 2050. Marine garbage is a global challenge with no borders, and countries should establish a coordination mechanism to clean up the oceans, as even the pristine waters of the Arctic contain micro and nano plastic waste which make their way into the fish we consume.

A comprehensive value chain for dealing with plastic in the oceans should be started by developing a framework to establish risk ratings for companies that do not follow a proper plastic-free strategy and shy away from supporting waste disposal projects, such as infrastructure facilities for collecting and recycling garbage, in order to strengthen the health of the oceans.

In addition, China's efforts to reduce carbon emissions can also find response in a new business development project for carbon capture and storage on a seabed, and become a vital part of China's strategic green shift. Oceans pose challenges but they also offer opportunities, and it is in China's interest to meet those challenges and cash in on the opportunities.

The author is a visiting scholar at Fudan Development Institute and a researcher on the Arctic at Akvaplan-Niva (Norway). The views don't necessarily reflect those of China Daily.

(China Daily Global 05/08/2019 page12)

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