What impact could changing storminess have on global fisheries?

What could it mean for risk management in the blue economy?

July 5, 2018
| United Kingdom

Fisheries are vital in supporting many of the world’s communities, as important sources of nutrition, livelihoods and cultural identity. However, they’re vulnerable to over-exploitation and environmental pressures such as the impacts of climate change.

One of the changes we’re likely to see, and arguably are already seeing due to the effect of a warming global climate involves storminess. It’s virtually certain that tropical cyclones have increased in intensity since the 1970’s, and whether this is related to human-induced global warming due to increased CO2 levels or not, it presents the challenge of making sure our fishing and coastal communities can adapt to both natural climate variability and long-term trends.

To improve the understanding in how changes in storminess due to global warming may affect the fishery social and ecological systems, Willis Research Network (WRN) is supporting a project at the University of Exeter, undertaken by PhD researcher Nigel Sainsbury, which will examine available data from the fishing industry such as catch data, vessel characteristics and activity, alongside climate data from historical observations and model projections.

This multi-disciplinary project is ambitious in its goals, and it’s hoped that the findings will underpin the development of new financial mechanisms and alternative risk transfer products for the fishing industry. The project was instigated by Willis Towers Watsons’s Director of Livestock, Aquaculture and Fisheries, Dan Fairweather, and now represents an innovative area of research through the WRN, which may help to build a new market, as well as support coastal economies around the world in the long run. To learn more about this project, see the recently published peer-review article, “Changing storminess and global capture fisheries,” which was recently published in Nature Climate Change (subscription required); view the video abstract or read the press release from the University of Exeter.

Connecting with the blue economy

This research is timely as momentum gathers across the world in finding new ways to access the blue economy. To best develop and manage economies and communities reliant on coastal and marine ecosystems, we need to build on deep understanding of the opportunities and risks of economic exploitation of resources available through the oceans. Sustainability and resilience are key; both in terms of conservation of the marine environment and ecosystem stability, but also for financial ventures that can be managed in a way that maximizes benefits and minimizes impacts.

Earlier this year, Willis Towers Watson leaders attended The Economists’ Fifth World Ocean Summit, an event that brought together public sector and government initiatives with the private sector, in an effort to deepen the engagement with the ocean.  

The event delved into innovative financing, metrics and measurement to underpin accountability in blue initiatives, the interlinked issues of pollution and climate change, and the business cases for developing the blue economy. This ambitious agenda brought together leading economists, government officials, environmental leaders and representatives from major international financial services.

Over 360 global leaders from government, industry, multilateral organizations, the scientific community and civil society used the forum to work towards solutions through a constructive and collegiate dialogue. One of the key aims was to address how to meet the 14th Sustainability Development Goal (SDG14), as set out by the United Nations, which promises to “conserve and sustainably use the oceans, seas and marine resources,” and make this goal a reality. The insurance industry can play an important role in developing financial mechanisms to support the use of the oceans and de-risk practices that can cause harm to the environment.

One of the key announcements from Willis Towers Watson concerned the new Global Ecosystem Resilience Facility (GERF) - an initiative that focuses on developing new frameworks and innovative finance tools to help build the resilience of ecosystems around the world, and the communities they support. The impacts of climate change and other pressures on the marine environments from pollution and over-fishing make coastal and island communities which are reliant on the blue economy, particularly vulnerable.

Coastal ecosystems, like coral reefs or mangroves, can provide a variety of services to society. Benefits range from the physical protection from storm-driven waves provided by mangroves, through the primary resources for local fishing communities, to key natural attractions for tourism. Reducing the vulnerability of marine ecosystems can help sustain the lives and livelihood of over 500 million people around the world.

GERF takes a holistic approach by acknowledging changes driven by both natural process and human activity. The facility will support community resilience through sustainable practices and local environmental stewardship relating to the blue economy, whilst also developing disaster risk finance tools to protect against natural catastrophes. Supporting local communities is key, and GERF plans to achieve this through transference of technical expertise to build capacity in risk assessment and management to underpin sustainable business practices. Innovative finance solutions will be in the form of risk transfer and project financing mechanisms such as risk pools and/or mutuals, while catastrophe bonds or resilience bonds will also be explored for disaster relief and preparedness.

Alongside the high-profile discussions and broad ideas put forward at the forums like the World Ocean Summit, the analytics and science behind the new initiatives continues to build. Assessing the vulnerability of coastal and island communities is most effectively done at the ground level, as a bottom approach, while bringing global interest and providing financial mechanism to support capacity and resilience building is the real goal of large global summits. When high-level decision-makers and technical experts in their field are brought together, there is real potential to bring about positive change, though developing new tools and providing financing for resilience and sustainable business practice across industry sectors.