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Participants at School of Ecology caution against the Blue Economy

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The eight School of Ecology session of Health of Mother Earth Foundation (HOMEF) held on 10 and 11 September 2020, with the theme Blue Economy Blues. The session interrogated the top-down Blue Economy concept, drew attention to the red flags tied to it and proposed as an alternate route: a people-to-policy approach in relating with our aquatic resources. The session was a combination of in-person and virtual participation with participants joining from clusters in Port Harcourt, Abuja and Calabar and virtually via Zoom and Facebook live streaming.

Presentations covered the gender component of marine ecosystem restoration; the AU position on the Blue Economy; sea grabbing and lessons from Operation Phakisa in South Africa; the state of biodiversity in our aquatic ecosystem; mangrove restoration as key for a peoples wetland economy; oceans, geo-engineering and new threats; issues of industrial trawlers in the high seas; and energy from the sea. The question of who will benefit from the Blue Economy was addressed.

From the presentations and extensive discussions, the following observations were made:

The climate crisis in which the world is engulfed is a result of a deeply flawed economic model which sees nature as an inexhaustible source of materials including the non-renewable coal, oil and gas.
It is based on this economic model that Blue Economy – seeks to promote more rapacious exploitation of aquatic resources
Added to the land grab that results from current economic models of accumulation by dispossession, the Blue Economy has the potential to unleash sea grab in Africa.
Over exploitation of aquatic resources, pollution and introduction of alien species lead to destruction of biodiversity and aquatic ecosystems. This causes our ecosystems to lose their resilience and capacity to adjust to major threats such as climate change or to serve as carbon sinks.

The over concentration on economic gains have caused South Africa to lease 95% of its oceans for oil and gas drilling and deep-sea mining without public consultation while instigating a ruinous competition with Nigeria.
The beneficiaries of the Blue Economy scheme are people of the global north and pockets of elite in the developing world who have hoarded and grown gluttonous on benefits of our shared natural capital.

Drilling of oil and gas in the oceans results to extinction of endangered species, destruction of habitats, oil pollution, climate change and negative socioeconomic impacts on fishers, on tourism as well as other recreational activities.
Geoengineering techniques do not address the root causes of climate change such as dependence on fossil fuels, unsustainable consumption, and waste. They instead aim to lock in the polluting modes while creating captive markets.

Mangroves which provide a wide spectrum of goods and services (including acting as an efficient carbon sink and being spawning ground for fisheries) and which contribute significantly to the people’s economy are increasingly being destroyed due to oil pollution, overexploitation, conversion, dredging and canalization, untreated effluent discharge, plastic pollution, fragmentation and spread of alien invasive species.

At the end of the session the following resolutions were made:

The Blue Economy concept should be rejected as it portends great danger for Africa. Besides the illogic of limitless aquatic resources, the economic template will open our oceans for risky geoengineering experimentations supposedly to flight global warming. We do not need approaches that further compound the problems but a completely overhauled economic system that is just, socially inclusive, and environmentally sustainable.

Geoengineering and similar experiments should be banned because of their high risk and potential to create unpredictable consequences. Real solutions to climate change are those that address its root causes.
It is time for Africa to move away from a racist colonial economy to a peoples’ economy.
Our governments should urgently set up policies/implementation measures for the management, conservation and restoration of mangroves especially in the Niger Delta region of Nigeria. These policies and processes must be pro-communities and citizens led.

Our governments should focus on a just transition from the dependence on fossil fuels and invest in renewable energy and just labour systems.

More research should be supported to increase knowledge on aquatic ecosystems to promote effective management.

As a people we must recognize our aquatic ecosystems as legal entities possessing rights, rather than treating them as mere resources for appropriation, transformation and consumption.

We should not be bystanders in processes that determine our future. We must unite, take back our lands and our oceans and hold the polluters responsible.

The speakers/instigators included Nnimmo Bassey(Health of Mother Earth Foundation), Patrick Bond (University of the Western Cape School of Government), Bamikole Williams (Department of Fisheries Resources, Nigerian Institute for Oceanography and Marine Research), Morris Alagoa (Niger Delta Resource Centre (Environmental Rights Action/Friends of the Earth Nigeria), Desmond De’Sa (South Durban Community Environmental Alliance (SDCEA), Nenibarini Zabbey (Center for Environment, Human Rights and Development (CEHRD), Rivers State, Nigeria.), Neth Dano (Action on Erosion, Technology and Concentration-ETC Group), Liziwe McDaid (Southern African Faith Communities’ Environment Institute (SAFCEI)), Ken Henshaw (We the People), Sherelee Odayar (South Durban Community Environmental Alliance (SDCEA), Irikhefe Dafe (River Ethiope Trust Foundation), Tijah Bolton (Policy Alert) and Jerry Chidi (Author- Man and Mangroves).