Publication launch remarks by Ahmed M. Saeed, ADB Vice-President, Operations 2, at the first Healthy Oceans Tech and Finance Forum, 26-28 January 2022

I think the timing couldn't be better for this book. As we all know, our oceans are under a multi-pronged and multi-front attack. Climate change is causing rising sea levels, ocean warming, and acidification. Unsustainable fishing is depleting the fish stocks that create a healthy ecosystem in the ocean. Agricultural pollutants, untreated wastewater, and plastic―8 million tons of plastic―are entering the oceans every year. It really is not too much to say that as a civilization we are attacking our oceans. Literally, we are biting the hand that feeds us―despite the environmental and economic benefits of healthy oceans and despite the fact that they are literally what keeps us alive.

A growing number of natural and human induced threats to this precious resource continue unabated. The international community increasingly recognizes the importance of ocean health. As we all know, Sustainable Development Goal 14 (SDG 14) is focused on “Life Below Water” and identifies the inclusion of conservation and sustainable use of the ocean as important development objectives. If we don't take this SDG 14 seriously, we can expect to see the death of 90% of coral reefs by 2052 and the loss of all commercially exploitable wild fish stocks by 2048. A billion people depend on seafood in the global fishing market. This is a market worth over $100 billion. It is not too much to say that the economic and financial costs of damaging the oceans is incalculable. These are issues that are relevant to every human being on earth, but they're particularly relevant here in Southeast Asia. This is a region with some of the longest coastlines in the world. In Indonesia―the largest archipelagic nation and the second largest fish producer in the world―the ocean economy contributes over a quarter to the country's GDP, with marine capture fisheries and aquaculture alone employing around 7 million people. In the other major economies of ASEAN―Philippines, Vietnam, and Thailand―the ocean economy share of GDP is more than 15%.

Now, fixing the oceans is going to take many things but none of it is going to be possible without money. We really do need to increase the scale, innovativeness, reach, and ambition of our global blue finance initiatives. There are tremendous opportunities for investment in sustainable tourism, food production, wastewater treatment, integrated solid waste management, and sustainable coastal infrastructure. But making these investments a reality―these investments that will require large sums of money―will take coordinated action. Public sector action alone will simply not be enough, particularly in a fiscally constrained world in the aftermath of COVID-19.

ADB estimates that we need $459 billion for ocean investment in Asia. This will require the mobilization of private capital, commercial and institutional finance, capital market transactions, and public-private partnerships. Traditional blended finance vehicles will play a role, but more innovative structures will also be required. Things like blue bonds, debt-for-nature swaps, credit enhancements, SDG bonds and other such initiatives. This is why ADB’s Southeast Asia Department to the ASEAN Catalytic Green Finance Facility has developed the report that it's our privilege to be together to launch today. It's a report called “Financing the Oceans Back to Health in Southeast Asia: Approaches to Mainstreaming Blue Finance.” It provides an overview of the blue economy with a focus on the investment approaches, opportunities, and finance mechanisms that we will need to get to a sustainable ocean. It includes a focus on the role of multilateral institutions like ADB, our sister institutions, bilateral development financing institutions, and also focuses on market-based approaches and how to incentivize and attract private and commercial capital. There is a very broad range of ideas discussed in this book―everything from blended finance to guarantee and revenue support structures, first loss guarantee mechanisms, and ocean health credits. I think it's a very important and comprehensive overview of the tools that we have at our disposal and some of the tools that we need to develop so that they're at a disposal as we tackle this very, very important topic.

In closing, let me just say again, we don't have time to wait. It is absolutely critical that we mobilize and educating the broader investment community is an important part of mobilizing capital and resources, and I'm hopeful that this book, something that I'm very proud of, that the team here today has accomplished will play a role in that. From ADB's side, we will do more than share these ideas. We have technical assistance funds available to test some of these ideas in different ASEAN countries. I understand that this work has already begun, Ramesh Subramaniam and Anouj Mehta and others from ADB Southeast Asia Innovation Hub team are working on project concepts in Indonesia and Cambodia and other countries. We're going to need to develop more of these innovative financial solutions and mechanisms to help develop blue projects across the region. From our side at ADB, I want everyone to know that we remain extraordinarily committed to this very, very important objective. I want to thank the team again for their very hard work in putting together this important knowledge product. And the onus is on us as an organization to take these ideas and to turn them into a reality on the ground, in our developing countries, backed by real dollars, and achieving real impact. Thank you.

Speaker