Next week, Kenya will be in the global spotlight as thousands of delegates from around the world will gather at the Kenyatta International Convention Centre for the Sustainable Blue Economy Conference.

The United Nations Human Settlements Programme (UN-Habitat) congratulates the Government of the Republic of Kenya, Canada and Japan for co-hosting the first global conference on the Blue Economy. It is a unique opportunity for the world, especially the United Nations family, to learn how we can sustainably harness, through innovative means, the potential of our beautiful waters, while ensuring that people in developing nations, including women, youth and the indigenous people, are included.

The Blue Economy is a term that stems from the UN Conference on Sustainable Development (Rio+20) that was held in 2012 where member states pledged to “protect and restore the health, productivity and resilience of oceans and marine ecosystem to maintain their diversity, enabling their conservation and sustainable use for present and future”.

It is an emerging concept which encourages better stewardship of our oceans and other blue resources, while at the same time, provides for an inclusive model in which coastal zones, or areas with significant waterbodies, can begin to extend the benefit of those resources to all. Rio+20 helped states develop a common understanding that the world’s oceans and seas require special attention and coordinated action. It became the basis of a Sustainable Development Goal dedicated specifically to oceans. Goal 14 aims to “conserve and sustainably use the oceans, seas and marine resources for sustainable development”.

Today, coastal and island states are at the forefront of the Blue Economy movement, advocating for solutions tailored to their circumstances, constraints and challenges. Some see the Blue Economy as only including ocean and marine resources; for others, the Blue Economy refers to the sustainable use all water resources (oceans, seas, lakes, rivers and wetlands) for economic growth, improved livelihoods and job creation. Seas, lakes, rivers and wetlands all feed into oceans and marine zones, thereby broadly contributing, in one way or another, to the Blue Economy concept.

UN-Habitat subscribes to an integrated and innovative approach to the economic consumption of resources of not only oceans but all waterbodies. Inland cities are also affected as much as coastal and island cities.

Cities and human settlements today are at the forefront of the Blue Economy and many urban centres are located along coasts and waterfronts around the world. Ninety per cent of world trade goes through port cities and countries. For example, coastal cities in the West Indian Ocean, derive USD 25 billion per year from tourism, fisheries, coastal agriculture, mining, mariculture, ports and coastal transport sectors (UN Environment, 2009). Cities must therefore recognize, nurture and sustainably manage the value of their natural capital, particularly their waterbodies.

UN-Habitat and its partners support states in harnessing the potential of cities to benefit from the Blue Economy through enhancing sustainable human settlement livelihoods, “green” and “blue” job creation, sustainable housing and infrastructure, waste management, ecological protection and restoration of coastal and waterfront areas. We advocate for states to consider integrating urban planning and marine spatial planning as a priority for a sustainable Blue Economy. Bringing together spatial planning and integrated coastal zone management through the development of integrated coastal and marine spatial plans are therefore important steps to guide national and sub-national government policy-makers, local government officials, marine protection experts and other civic stakeholders.

In Kenya, UN-Habitat provides technical input into Kisumu’s Lakefront Planning Initiative, a project developed to create quality public space along the lakeshore, while ensuring environmental protection, thereby enhancing the investment potential of the city’s central business district.

In São Tomé and Príncipe, where climate change vulnerabilities have negatively impacted housing sustainability along beachfronts, UN-Habitat supported the government to resettle affected communities by constructing a new neighbourhood with 136 houses and public facilities for the beneficiaries. This had a direct impact on the preservation of beaches, both for tourism and biodiversity conservation.

UN-Habitat strongly advocates for resilient urban planning and design for all human settlements. Low-carbon plans for infrastructure and basic services are needed to promote local economic development and to protect cities from further contributing to environmental degradation. Concurrently, it is critical to pay particular attention to water management, wastewater, oceans and marine pollution as a key pillar of sustainable urban development.

UN-Habitat is proud to be associated with this first edition of the Sustainable Blue Economy Conference and stands ready to support countries to further explore opportunities to establish the linkages between cities and the Blue Economy, in terms of cities as hotspots of vulnerability, but equally as well as drivers and opportunities for prosperous and sustainable urban development.


Maimunah Mohd Sharif is the United Nations Under-Secretary-General and the Executive Director of the United Nations Human Settlements Programme (UN-Habitat).

Download the UN-Habitat Background Paper on Blue Economy and Cities

Youth and the Blue Economy Declaration Nov 18 2018