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Using transformative scenarios to deliver on SDG 14 in the Western Indian Ocean

Reos Partners
December, 2017

The Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) have provided a globally recognized platform for bringing diverse stakeholders together around common challenges. SDG 14, “Life Below Water” (Conserve and sustainably use the oceans, seas and marine resources for sustainable development) has been a focus of activity in 2017. The Global Ocean Conference, hosted by Fiji and Sweden at the UN headquarters in New York in June, was an unprecedented opportunity to bring together all stakeholders in ocean use to rally around ensuring its sustainability. Countries and civil society representatives alike reported on how they would deliver on the targets of SDG 14 across challenges such as pollution, ocean acidification, marine protection, knowledge transfer, and international law.

For the Northern Mozambique Channel initiative (NMCi), this conference provided an opportunity to bring a transformative multi-stakeholder approach to our region. Having previously worked with Reos Partners in the Sustainable Ocean Lab in 2015-2016, we had been brainstorming how to apply such an approach in our regional context. Support from Sweden to WWF (World Wide Fund for Nature) Madagascar and the NMCi to work with countries on their SDG 14 priorities provided the perfect opportunity to practice working in this new way.

The 220 million residents of the Western Indian Ocean (WIO) countries, 60 million of whom live in the coastal zone, derive more than US$20.8 billion in economic benefits from the ocean each year — equivalent to the size of a national economy. But this value is under threat. The challenge for WIO countries is “to achieve successful economic growth, build social welfare and equity AND maintain the health of ocean ecosystems,” all at the same time. With expanding climate change impacts, rapidly growing populations, escalating investment and infrastructure projects, and rapid technology changes, the risk is that poorly planned development will undermine and destroy the environment that supports so many subsistence-level and low-income people in the coastal zones.

With the urgent task to develop SDG 14 commitments to present in June and then to work out how to deliver on them, we decided to adopt Reos Partners' method of Transformative Scenario Process (TSP). Faced with big challenges, diverse stakeholders, and uncertain futures, the NMCi team, consulting with national stakeholders through the Nairobi Convention, embarked on a process to develop scenarios to guide future decision-making, whether by governments or major private sector actors, to support achievement of the SDGs.

The Process

The process started with national cross-sectoral consultations in Madagascar, Mozambique, and Tanzania in March and April 2017, where national leaders identified their priorities for linking national policies and master plans to SDG 14 Targets. A regional workshop in May in the Seychelles helped participants to prepare a set of regional “voluntary commitments” prior to the Global Ocean Conference. At the conference, statements of commitment from different countries and the NMCi voluntary commitments set the tone for the next steps; at the same time, countries and participants adopted the “Our Ocean, Our Future: Call for Action.”

Meanwhile, Reos Partners was conducting a series of dialogue interviews to build a deeper understanding of stakeholders’ concerns in relation to the future of the WIO region. Some stakeholders questioned the official label given to SDG14, “life below water,” as they spoke about the current and future states of the ocean and what that would mean for the well-being of communities (“life above water”). Their core concerns related to the ability of people from countries in the region to survive and prosper, pointing to the deep interdependencies of life above and below water in the region.

In November, a second regional workshop was held in Maputo, Mozambique. Here, stakeholders identified stronger objectives and actions for the regional voluntary commitments, and took a deeper dive into the Transformative Scenario Process process. They mapped the uncertainties and drivers they perceived about the future of the Western Indian Ocean, specifically the Northern Mozambique Channel (NMC).

Two main drivers were identified as crucial determinants of the scenario outcomes: the level of governance in the NMC area and the level of investment. Other major uncertainties, such as the extent and impact of climate change, growing population and changing demographics, and risk of pollution from oil and gas and coastal development were considered important, but participants decided that the first two were “make or break” uncertainties that are also under the direct influence of regional actors.

Process tools such as building 3D Lego® models of the chosen scenarios helped to loosen participants' creative juices, and we finished with the outlines for four scenarios. Teams presented these to the group, accompanied by jokes, music, and laughter, though the serious implications of some of the scenarios — for example, felled forests and non-functioning power plants — were a sober message of plausible futures that might take place if certain governance and investment options unfold.

Participants will refine the scenario narratives in the third and final TSP workshop in March 2018, providing plausible stories of what could happen in the future. These scenarios will then inform strategic responses that will contribute to the national and regional implementation of the SDGs.

What Next?

In parallel to finalizing the scenarios in early 2018, national discussions on the SDG 14 voluntary commitment actions will be underway. We hope that the two will come together at the Nairobi Convention Conference of Parties in mid-2018, where ministers from the represented countries may become champions for the scenarios. The hope is that these political representatives will play a role in national decision making to improve sustainability and achievement of not just the SDG 14 Targets, but also other related SDGs, such as equitable and fair employment in fisheries, the relief of hunger, and the sustainable management and use of coral reef resources.

Jointly produced by a group of “unlike-minded” people, the scenarios are an important product. At the same time, longer-term outcomes include stronger collaboration and shared understanding between influential role-players who have historically worked in parallel or at cross-purposes.

A Sustainable Blue Economy

The scenario method has built on a rich history of regional projects and planning in the Nairobi Convention, including several regional programs funded by the Global Environment Facility (GEF) on marine pollution and marine ecosystem and fisheries management. The imperative now is to use that body of knowledge on ocean health and its vulnerability, and the mandate given by the SDGs for transformative governance (see the article on SDGs in this issue), to embed the SDGs and sustainability in the new drives toward blue economic development across the African maritime states and globally.

The countries of the NMC and WIO justifiably want to base a new spurt of economic growth on exploitation of ocean resources. But there is a risk in perceiving those resources as being limitless, when they are actually highly vulnerable to damage. Exploitation that is done unsustainably will destroy the very asset base that is so sought after, and the long-term outcome will not serve the interests of national stakeholders.

So we hope that by highlighting risks and potential outcomes, including outcomes other than ones that are compatible with achieving the SDGs, the scenarios process will help national leaders, economic sector leaders, and international and multi-sectoral actors lead the way to success on the SDGs — the true pathway for a sustainable blue economy.

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