Ocean-based sectors, such as fisheries, tourism and maritime transportation, are at the heart of the economy of many developing countries. The way these sectors will develop in the future could either accelerate progress towards sustainable development or exacerbate the current unsustainable trends. Prior to the COVID-19 crisis, the OECD projected that the ocean economy would double in size by 2030. Only if managed sustainably and through recovery efforts that build back bluer, such expansion could lead to more resilient and equitable societies.

Transitioning to sustainable ocean economies is possible, urgent, and delivers universal benefits. The ocean is the largest natural carbon sink on the planet, and a tremendous source of economic livelihoods for billions of people. New solutions for sustainable aquaculture and mariculture can create more jobs and contribute to food security. Renewable ocean energy sources can improve countries’ energy mixes. Actions to conserve mangroves and other natural buffers against climate change and extreme weather events can help combat climate change and ensure the delivery of multiple other invaluable marine ecosystem services. For this to happen, international co-operation and global rules and norms on ocean need to be supportive of developing countries’ sustainable ocean economies, enhancing their access to ocean science, evidence-based policy advice, innovations and financing to ensure that both existing and emerging ocean-based sectors contribute to inclusive and sustainable development.

Shifting to sustainable ocean economies implies bold and proactive policies that can help refocus economic activities and foster new sustainable economic models that conserve scarce ocean resources and produce more sustainably. But effective policy making for sustainable ocean economies – in both developing countries and the international development community supporting them – is currently hampered by a lack of adequate evidence and a lack of long-term actions across the spectrum of policy areas relating to the ocean. There is a need to develop clear definitions, standards and principles for effective policy making on the sustainable ocean economy, to better track policies and finance, and to share good practices and lessons learned across countries and communities of practice. This report is a step in that direction.1

Sustainable ocean economies are far from being a reality in developing countries nor OECD countries. Yet, this report shows numerous positive examples: scientific and technological advances help to map and better understand ocean resources, thus helping to manage them more effectively; the application of economic instruments – including fiscal measures – to encourage a more sustainable use of ocean resources in key economic sectors; development co-operation interventions in support of the deployment of new technologies to enhance sea surveillance and security; measures to increase the value of fish products through certifications of sustainability; and, support to reduce the environmental impacts and GHG emissions from ships and port infrastructure. Much is left to be done, but these examples could be scaled up and provide a basis from which to build a much-needed coherent and effective approach to sustainable ocean management and effective development co-operation for sustainable ocean economies.

The ocean has been the source of wealth and well-being for humans for millennia - we have a responsibility to make sure it will continue to be so for future generations, benefitting all of humanity.


Rodolfo Lacy


Environment Directorate


Jorge Moreira da Silva


Development Co-operation Directorate


Andrew Wyckoff,


Science, Technology and Innovation Directorate


← 1. As part of this work, a new data platform on official development assistance for the sustainable ocean economy will be available here: oe.cd/oceandev. An overview of OECD sources on the ocean is available here: https://www.oecd.org/ocean/. Additional OECD sources include OECD ocean data and indicators [OECD (2020), "Sustainable ocean economy", in Environment at a Glance Indicators, OECD Publishing, Paris, https://doi.org/10.1787/1f798474-en.

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