Funding the Oceans – ITW Torsten Thiele

© Josh Stride

The upcoming COP 21 in Paris is seen by many as the first real test of the Green Climate Fund, established five years ago at COP 17 in Durban. But the ocean’s conspicuous absence at past meetings has got many talking about the need for ocean-specific funding, or “blue finance.”

On my visit to the Tara during its stay in London I was joined by Torsten Thiele – founder of the Global Ocean Trust and member of the Ocean and Climate Platform – who talked to me about his vision for oceans funding.

Torsten Thiele exudes the energy and enthusiasm of a man in possession of a big idea, and one that he wants to share with the world. Despite the fact that the oceans – which he calls “the pumping heart of the planet” – have remained conspicuously under-represented at previous climate change conferences, Thiele remains infectiously optimistic that this can be changed. Perhaps it is the relatively simple logic of his proposition: considering the oceans’ importance to the earth’s climate and mankind’s efforts to mitigate climate change, more of the financing aimed at achieving agreed climate goals must be directed towards them.

For Thiele, what he calls “ocean resilience” must be central to any efforts to address climate change. “To really understand the impact the oceans have on the global climate system,” he says, “you have to understand that ocean resilience works in many ways. It’s the carbon sink that the oceans provide – both in terms of biomass, but also in coastal settings, with reefs and coral reefs and mangroves and sea grasses and in fish stocks.”

As part his goal to see ocean and climate change issues more closely aligned, Thiele’s organisation – the Global Ocean Trust – has joined with other like-minded organisations and individuals to form the Ocean and Climate Platform. For Thiele, the platform offers the opportunity “to bring all of the experience we have in various places around coming up with these concepts…to the central debating platform, and then find solutions and apply them.” So, it seems only natural for each of the platform’s diverse members to utilise their strengths towards a common goal. With a background in infrastructure finance, Thiele recognises the vital role financial instruments have to play in building ocean resilience and mitigating climate change.

The adoption of the Green Climate Fund five years ago at the COP 17 in Durban appeared to signal a much wider recognition of the need for specific climate finance to help address climate change. However, the relative absence of the ocean from previous climate talks has also seen it overlooked in discussions about climate financing. And so the concept of “blue finance” emerged as a way to highlight the need to include the ocean as part of the solution. “We use the concept of blue finance to describe how sustainable financing in a marine environment can be part of the solution,” says Thiele. “Just like we have green climate bonds, green finance on land, protecting of forests that act as carbon sinks, we need blue finance.”

For Thiele, the benefits are obvious; or, in financial terms, a high return on investment is guaranteed – what he calls “the triple bottom line”: “The benefit of this investment is that it is real investment – it improves our planet in the long term; and so, it will have the triple bottom line: it has financial returns, environmental returns, but is part of the overall puzzle; so, one investment reinforces the other.”

When I ask how the money will actually be spent in practice, Thiele jumps at the opportunity: “I can give you a very specific example!” The Sargasso Sea, he says, is the hatching ground for European and American eels, as well as comprising 2.4 million kilometres of sargassum, a unique seaweed notable for its ability to absorb carbon. It also represents a valuable part of the whale watching industry as well as sustaining European and American eel fisheries. “Protecting this area, doing the science, investing in that protection, will help not only that carbon sink and that marine protected space, but it will also help the whale watching industry in North America…the ecosystem value of the Sargasso Sea is significant and investing in its protection and investing in new services that come out of it is part of what we call blue finance.”

Interview by Josh Stride

Related articles:

- Sign the Ocean Call for Climate

- ITW with Romain Troublé: “Let’s give the Ocean a voice at the COP21″

- Learn more about Tara, member of the Ocean & Climate platform