Environmental Policy News

FAO and Partner Agencies Tasked with Leading $115 Million Clean and Healthy Oceans Program

Groundbreaking partnership with ADB, CAF, EBRD and IOC-UNESCO aims to address agricultural, municipal, and industrial pollution from land-based sources that harm coastal environments.

The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), along with four partner agencies, has been tasked with leading the Clean and Healthy Oceans Integrated Program, a source-to-sea initiative that will direct up to $115 million in grants to help countries curb land-based pollution of coastal environments and Large Marine Ecosystems.

The decision was made at the 64th Council Meeting of the Global Environment Facility (GEF), a family of funds dedicated to confronting biodiversity loss, climate change, pollution, and strains on land and ocean health.

FAO will co-lead the program together with the Asian Development Bank (ADB), the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD) and the Development Bank of Latin America (CAF), in a strategic partnership with the Intergovernmental Oceanographic Commission of UNESCO (IOC-UNESCO).

Oceans have lost nearly 2 percent of their oxygen since the 1950s, resulting in “dead zones”—known as hypoxia—that cannot support marine life. Pollution from land-based sources, including the overuse of fertilizer, organic waste from livestock, and untreated municipal and industrial wastewater, typically drive hypoxia worldwide.

Land-based pollution puts marine biodiversity, ecosystems, coastal economies, and industries reliant on fisheries and the oceans’ resources at risk. Under long-term hypoxia, coral reefs may experience mass mortalities, valuable coastal fish species migrate to higher oxygen areas, and the growth and reproduction rates of many marine species plummet.

The Clean and Healthy Oceans Integrated Program aims to curb land-based pollution of our oceans through policy and regulatory innovation, infrastructure investments, and nature-based solutions. It will also map land-based sources of ocean pollution to better understand the impacts on hypoxia and apply ocean science to develop solutions that improve human and ocean health.

Specifically, the program aims to improve sustainable practices on 200,000 hectares of landscapes and 14.3 million hectares of marine habitats (an area roughly the size of all of Thailand's cultivable land). Additional aims include reducing pollution and improving management in more than three Large Marine Ecosystems and mitigating 5.6 million metric tons of greenhouse gas emissions.

This is the first time that FAO, ADB, CAF, EBRD and IOC-UNESCO have teamed up under one program to deliver global environmental benefits.

The partnership leverages the global and regional leadership of each organization in reducing ocean pollution from the source. For example, the program will benefit from FAO’s expertise and convening power in the agricultural, fertilizer, livestock, and fisheries sectors. It will also build on initiatives and the investment portfolios of regional multilateral development banks on the Blue Economy, the Green Economy, marine conservation, and wastewater infrastructure. The global ocean science and services of IOC-UNESCO will bolster the scientific basis of the program and strengthen linkages to the UN Decade of Ocean Science for Sustainable Development (2021–2030).

What they said:

“Transforming agrifood systems on land, in order to transform agrifood systems in our seas, is a win-win solution for people and the planet. We need to work collectively to protect marine biological diversity, and this new partnership will harness our strengths to safeguard our resources on land and under water. Together, we can turn the tide on pollution for better production, better nutrition, a better environment, and a better life.” QU Dongyu, FAO Director-General.

“The quantitative description of the ocean, including marine pollution and oxygen loss, is drastically incomplete and, as a result, our current knowledge is insufficient to effectively inform solutions to the ocean issues that humanity is now facing. By joining forces, FAO, ADB, CAF, EBRD, and IOC-UNESCO are embarking on a collaboration to address coastal pollution. This partnership leverages the strengths and expertise of each organization, ensuring a comprehensive approach to safeguarding marine ecosystems. Working together, in the spirit of the UN Decade of Ocean Science for Sustainable Development, we will make a step towards the ocean we need for the future we want." Vladimir Ryabinin, IOC-UNESCO Executive Secretary.

“Oceans face serious sustainability problems, mostly caused, and accelerated by climate change, such as increasingly acidic and warmer waters, rising sea levels and overexploitation of marine stocks. In Latin America and the Caribbean, marine ecosystems show a reduction in the abundance, density, and cover of coral and of stocks of fish and marine fauna, changes in plankton and loss of wetland ecosystems. This financing reaffirms the multilateral commitment to lead the fight against climate change and promote the development of the blue economy." Sergio Díaz-Granados, Executive President of CAF.

"We, at the EBRD, are very glad to have joined forces with FAO, ADB, CAF and IOC-UNESCO to co-lead the GEF’s Clean and Healthy Oceans Program. This new partnership benefits from each organization’s strengths and highlights our robust commitment to blue-green investments. We understand the critical importance of a sustainable blue economy for the development of our regions, in particular in the Mediterranean, and the integral role of the seas and oceans in climate action. Only by working together we can fight environmental degradation in marine ecosystems.” Ines Rocha, EBRD Managing Director, Impact and Partnerships.

"The Asian Development Bank is excited to join the GEF Clean and Healthy Oceans Integrated Program together with CAF, EBRD, FAO, and IOC-UNESCO, at a crucial time when collective action to safeguard ocean health is of utmost importance. The program aligns with ADB’s $5 billion Healthy Oceans Action Plan, which finances projects on ocean health and the marine economy, including co-financing from development partners. ADB is prioritizing work with the private sector to advance solutions through integrated nature-based and pollution control investments, promoting circular economy systems, supporting ecosystems regeneration projects, and expanding regional cooperation. Under the CHO-IP, ADB will support in addressing the challenges brought about by climate change and boost ocean investment in its developing member countries." Bruno Carrasco, Director General, Sustainable Development and Climate Change Department, ADB.

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