Jan-Gunnar Winther is the Specialist Director of the Norwegian Polar Institute. He has been a CCICED Council Member since 2015. This year, Winther has co-led CCICED’s Special Policy Study (SPS) on oceans, titled “Pathways and Policies of Blue Economy in Supporting Carbon-Neutrality Target” (hereafter “Ocean SPS”).
Winther emphasizes the opportunity oceans offer for accelerated climate action and nature conservation in China and around the world. He illuminates the emerging concepts of “Sustainable Ocean Economy” and “Ocean-Based Solutions” and offers insights on major challenges, such as preserving marine biodiversity and decarbonizing maritime shipping.
Winther on the 2023 CCICED Annual General Meeting:
“I eagerly look forward to participating in the AGM in Beijing. It brings me great joy that we will meet in person to exchange knowledge and ideas. Virtual exchange can never fully replace the value of face-to-face interactions.”
What are the main contributions of this year’s Ocean SPS?
The core goal of this year’s Ocean SPS is to explore how to align ocean activities with the carbon neutrality goal in China and the world.
Ocean-based solutions can provide wins in the fight against climate change. Oceans are also an essential component of so-called “nature-based solutions.” Some of these ocean-based solutions, such as utilizing reservoirs for carbon sequestration and “blue forests” for carbon sinks, are low-hanging fruit with substantial climate mitigation effects. The good news is that many of these solutions are feasible with current technologies and can be implemented rapidly on a large scale.
The other focus is to identify venues where China can contribute to the global challenge of ocean and climate governance. This includes processes at the United Nations and the Oceans 20 agenda supported by the World Economic Forum. China has significant expertise in ocean governance and new solutions, which can inspire many countries, particularly those who are participating in the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI).
With that in mind, what are the Ocean SPS’s headline policy recommendations for the Chinese government?
This year, we highlight the necessity of addressing land–ocean interaction in government planning, legislation, and pollution prevention and control. In addition, we continue to stress the importance of enhancing coordination between national bodies, regional and local bodies, public agencies, and the private sector for the effective management of marine activities.
Historically, China has seen itself as a land country. Despite the increasing attention paid to the ocean in recent years, land and ocean have mostly been governed separately and are still largely subject to different regulations and legislation.
China has made some concrete efforts, such as introducing an authority to oversee the interface between land and ocean. There is great potential to strengthen the ties between land and ocean management, for example, on river basins and pollution prevention and control.
How can China contribute to global ocean governance?
Although the significance of oceans in combating climate change, preserving biodiversity, and promoting global sustainable development has become more evident than ever, we shouldn’t forget that most nations have only started to focus on oceans in the past decade. Due to this extremely brief time frame, we lack a lot of knowledge necessary to confront the immense complexity of ocean sustainability. Further, it is important that we change the narrative from the ocean being a victim of climate change to becoming part of the solution.
China can be at the forefront of many crucial issues, including green shipping, sustainable fisheries, and aquaculture. In the Ocean SPS, we investigate the possibility of establishing a comprehensive, integrated, ecosystem-based ocean management system tailored to Chinese conditions. In the meantime, European nations, including my native Norway and North American countries, also need Chinese knowledge to refine their practices.
One of the concepts explored in the Ocean SPS is “Sustainable Blue Economy.” What does it entail?
A sustainable ocean economy is a viable economy that generates positive climate and nature effects. Human activities can have both negative and positive impacts on climate and nature. For example, offshore wind farms generate carbon-free energy. At the same time, mining the minerals that we need for the wind turbines and the construction of large-scale infrastructure generate emissions and impact local ecosystems.
The key challenge for the research community is to quantify the full spectrum of impacts on climate and nature over the life cycle of the activity (including its infrastructure) so that we can conclude whether an activity is climate- or nature-positive. We are not there yet, but we are heading in the right direction.
In Norway, for example, we are in the design phase of developing “marine business parks,” where different activities, such as offshore wind and aquaculture, are co-located, fostering co-existence and synergisms. Such marine business parks also serve as renewable fuel stations and support the development of green corridors for low-carbon shipping.
Through integrating different maritime activities and connecting land and ocean management, we hope to lower the overall impacts on the climate and nature and achieve climate- and nature-positive yields overall.
“CCICED has the potential to foster two-way knowledge transfer between China and the rest of the world. China has cutting-edge knowledge and experience in dealing with our shared challenges on environment and development. Spreading that competence will significantly benefit the global community.”
Winther on CCICED
What are the major global challenges regarding marine biodiversity protection?
We must all scale up our marine conservation efforts to achieve the ambitious “30 by 30” goal [to sustainably manage 30% of land and sea by 2030, as set out in the Kunming-Montreal Global Biodiversity Framework]. “30 by 30” also triggers a crucial question: which ocean areas should be protected? We need to protect areas that are essential to marine ecosystems and not just be blinded by the percentage. Illegal, unreported, and unregulated fishing and marine pollution prevention and control are two other important issues. “Nature-based solutions,” extensively discussed at CCICED, are key to overcoming many of these marine obstacles.
Aligning ocean-based activities with the goal of carbon neutrality is a core focus of the Ocean SPS. What are the key challenges ahead in this space?
First, this year, we recommend the comprehensive achievement of a sustainable blue economy, a key strategic development goal of the nation and an integral part of the national carbon-peaking and carbon-neutrality targets.
Among several focus areas, progress on decarbonizing maritime transportation is underway, and it’s happening relatively fast. Ambitious goals are being set to reduce emissions from various types of fleets. It’s important to differentiate between short-distance fleets like ferries, which can transition to electrification or utilize alternative fuels like hydrogen and ammonia. In some areas, this is already happening at scale.
The more complex challenge lies in long-distance shipping. There, green corridors are emerging as a solution: ports such as Shanghai and Rotterdam could establish renewable fuel availability, enabling long-distance fleets to operate on sustainable sources. That said, this remains an area where much more needs to be done.
What questions would you like to explore in future CCICED ocean research?
We want to deepen our research on ocean governance, creating a blueprint for an ecosystem- and knowledge-based approach. This model should integrate all the relevant issues connected to oceans, such as shipping, marine pollution, fisheries, aquaculture, tourism, coastal ecosystem restoration (“blue forests”), oil and gas, and renewable energy production.
Based on this approach, we want to continue supporting China in achieving a sustainable ocean economy. Coordination between sectors, public and private entities, and institutions is challenging in a large country like China. We will focus on building a solution-oriented coordination system across all relevant stakeholders and bodies.
As for international maritime governance, we want to explore a carbon accounting and reporting system for ocean-based activities. Developing such a quantitative system would pave the way for integrating ocean activities within the global climate change mitigation framework of nationally determined contributions, as established by the Paris Agreement.
How can CCICED enhance its impact on ocean sustainability—and environmental and developmental issues in general—in the coming years?
It was timely and important that ocean-related subjects were introduced to CCICED in 2016. It’s very encouraging that the scope of our research has expanded consistently since then.
CCICED has huge potential to foster two-way knowledge transfer between China and the rest of the world. I think we can make even more of this mutual knowledge transfer. China possesses cutting-edge knowledge and experience in dealing with our shared challenges on environment and development. Spreading that competence will significantly benefit the global community.
The views expressed are those of the interviewee and not necessarily those of CCICED.