Speeches & Transcripts

World Bank Group President Robert B. Zoellick's Q&A Session at The Economist World Oceans Summit

February 24, 2012

John Micklethwait and Robert B. Zoellick. A Q&A session with The Economist Editor in Chief. Singapore


MICKLETHWAIT: Thank you Bob. A somewhat churlish question, you might say, particularly from a man who's just said that he'll raise 1.5 billion for the oceans. What some people are bound to ask is, why do we need a new partnership for the oceans? You've got the UN, you've got a variety of different groups already involved. Why this extra level?

ZOELLICK: I think the good news is - I commented in my remarks early on - is that there have been tremendous contributions from a wide variety of players, but the facts don't lie. The statistics are we're not doing enough, we're not accomplishing enough and the oceans continue to get sick and die.

So as we started this dialogue with partners - and I'll first acknowledge many of them had much more experience than I would've had in this area - but I've seen this in other fields of biodiversity. We started to find that there was a commonality - a recognition that in some case the knowledge and experience, for example, of setting up governance or rights-based fishing hadn't expanded to other areas. In some cases - and I've worked with governments all my life on this - people aren't aware that what they're developing in a coastal zone is one development project could have huge effects on the oceans. They may not know about the nitrogen that's going to supposedly help their agriculture fertilizer system but ends up polluting the oceans.

So part of the role here is to be catalytic in trying to get a greater focus on financial resources, knowledge resources, and as is often the case when you bring in developing countries in this - and here particularly you've got a lot of small island states - and see that the net gain from some particular investments could be much larger, then what we've seen in areas as diverse as tigers to other areas of economic development, you have to measure it.

You have to be - goodwill is not enough. So again, in the time that I've tried to add some focus to this, I've had a chance to meet - I know many of the people in the room - and there's some fascinating ideas out there. We just have to get them out and we have to drive them forward.

MICKLETHWAIT: Do you think the data's sufficient? You just mentioned the numbers. We've had a number of people here make the comment that we know more about the far side of the moon than we do about the oceans. Is that a problem from your point of view?

ZOELLICK: Well you've got people here who are more expert. From what I've been able to see, there is a lack of information but I remember talking - I think this was a conversation with Peter Seligmann of Conservation International – what is being developed quite quickly, and we've seen this in other areas, in terms of mapping oceans, mapping particular areas, but then seeing their interconnection could be hugely beneficial. This again is something I've seen in other areas of development. If we can work together to develop a knowledge platform and make it easier for all participants; private companies, island governments, large states; to be able to tap into that, again, I think we can maximize the individual investments.

MICHKELWAIT: One thing which has run right the way through this conference is I suppose the idea of whether you can make more money out of the seas, with quite a lot of people worried about the devastation, the economic spoliation, I suppose, of the seas. Yet you very plainly are coming at it from the point of view that this is a route to economic growth. Can you just say a little bit more about that?

ZOELLICK: Well, there's some analogies actually - energy efficiency. The first step is to stop doing dumb things. So you've got subsidies that are used for fisheries that are net negatives to the system, so when I was referring to the negative $5 billion loss, the fisheries [that we want] are trying to move to $20 billion to $30 billion a year gain. That's probably because money is misused.

So then I was reading an account coming from some of the Prince of Wales charities where some fisheries, people have been able to see, once they crash, once they start to rebuild them, and as they start to develop either a rights-based system or others that are sometimes based on local populations, you can start to see the economic gain. So when you and I first studied economics or many people did, there was an issue called the global commons, and it's the issue about how things can be misused. Well this is the classic case of the global commons, and since it covers 71 percent of the Earth's surface, it's a pretty big one.

MICKLETHWAIT: Would you think there's a particular thing to do with people from deep inland actually using the oceans but not actually knowing that they're causing problems there? It's very obvious, fisheries, they're involved. It's very obvious hotels, right on the outside on the coast. But people from deep inland who are actually causing problems within the oceans but they never actually carry the full cost of it.

ZOELLICK: Well this is another one of those British-American tensions since you're from an island maritime nation and I'm from Illinois, which you'd probably consider to be a landlocked, Midwestern…

MICKLETHWAIT: Very, very landlocked, yeah.

ZOELLICK: But we do have the Great Lakes. But I think as you probably know, given your study of military history, a lot of the greatest admirals come from the Midwest.

MICKLETHWAIT: There's a very, very [ill] joke…

ZOELLICK: I think the reality is that there's a - part of this of course is that people are unaware of this. People are unaware of the dangers that I talked about. When you think about 85 percent of the fish stocks are either being severely depleted or close to that stage, this is a huge effect. The good news is, in a world where you see the interconnections with films and internet, I think people are much more alert to this. So part of the challenge with this - and this is again where I hope we can coalesce - people are barraged with information.

There's challenges, as you and I were just talking about, of all types. But I think here if you bring together a series of communities, whether it be the governments, the scientific, the conservation communities, the development community, and focus on some core points and core things to achieve, I think you have a better chance of bringing others along. What I found in this area, but also other areas of development, that's been quite encouraging is I'm increasingly finding private companies that find that the governments themselves seem to be stuck.

The private companies want to push the agenda but sometimes they're less familiar with how to build the governance structures. And so if we can get those interconnected, I think we can make progress. There's an idea I just alluded to in my remarks, and probably it'll come out in the course of the discussion, which I know that Kiribati has been a key leader in - but when you start to take the island chains and then you take their 200 mile economic zones, and then you can imagine creating a network of these, you could start to have a rather significant effect in creating a form of governance because it could start to affect how fisheries industries interact with those islands.

But as was noted in one of the cases, I think is the case of Kiribati, while they start to have the governance system, they don't really have much of a coast guard. So you have the US Coast Guard sending some ships out as part of a training exercise. Those are problems with rather modest investment you can take a concept of governance, an economic issue connected to the law enforcers, some minimal resources, and then you start to leverage it over different players.

At the same time, it'll be very important that the communities working on this work with those that are concerned about the freedom of the seas. So I think there's a potential here to be able to leverage a series of individual islands much more effectively than we're doing today.

MICKLETHWAIT: Let me throw it open to the audience questions. There's a lady there.

ZOELLICK: Could you give your name or who you…

MICKLETHWAIT: Yes, that would be good.

ALEXANDRA VAN: Hello, I'm Alexandra [Van]. I work with the World Future Council. That's a global forum that's working to protect the rights of future generations. We will be celebrating this year the world's best ocean and coastal policies with the future policy of water partnership at the global [unclear] facility, the Food and Agriculture Organization, the CBT. So Mr Zoellick, thank you very much for your presentation and congratulations for the new partnership. I want to build up on what you have said that there needs to be much more that needs to be done, we need to agree on common recommendations and having an action plan.

So I would like to get back to your comments on marine protected areas because we had this morning very good discussions about the potential economic benefits also of marine protected areas. Now, in Nagoya, governments have agreed actually to have the target of 10 percent of marine protected areas, so I would just like to follow up with you if under this partnership you will be supporting the 10 percent goal that was [already] agreed by 193 countries. Thank you very much.

ZOELLICK: Well, the goal that came up from the various groups here was 5 percent. They're more than doubling. Now, would I be delighted with 10 percent? Sure. But I was at Nagoya and I've been attending some of those conferences since Rio in '92, and I guess one of the distinctions I'll draw is the difference between what I've seen between when people put words on paper and even sort of put the gavel to say a nice concluding statement - and then what they actually achieve.

What we've tried to do, whether it be climate change or biodiversity or in this area with oceans, is try to organize the different parties together - conservation, scientific, international organizations and others - and set realistic goals. My own sense from what I know, that I'm happy to defer to others, that doubling the 5 percent will be a significant effort to achieve.

So if you can go to five to 10 percent - as we all noted, the land is 12 percent - I'm all for it. But let's take realistic milestones and try to get them done, and once we get that one done then you can go to the next one.

MICKLETHWAIT: Another question. Two hands back there.

PARTICIPANT: Thank you. My name's [unclear]. I am former Minister of Marine Affairs and Fisheries, Republic of Indonesia. Right now I'm working as Professor for [unclear]. I think you agree that despite the global effort of restoring ocean deterioration. But the fact is that the state of our ocean tends to be unsustainable, be it in terms of fishing, water pollution and habitat degradation. My conclusion is that why despite global efforts, ocean still unsustainable because up until now, we're only tackling the symptoms of the problems.

We've never caught the real causes of the problems, and I think that the cause of the problem in our world is that the human demand on the carrying capacity exceeds the carrying capacity of the ocean in providing resources and [unclear] and we know the human demand is determined by two things: number one is the number of population, and number two is consumption rate of the people on our resources and [unclear] of humanity in terms of pollution.

So I'm just wondering if I could suggest that to tackle the global problems, I think number one, we have to increase the carrying capacity of oceans on Earth, and number two is to align our human demand [unclear] carrying capacity. My question to you then…

MICKLETHWAIT: I think you've gone on a very long time. Can you just give your question very rapidly?

PARTICIPANT: Yeah, my question is, how to reduce or control human demand?

MICKLETHWAIT: Thank you, that's a very good question. Essentially it's [Malthuse] of the seas.

ZOELLICK: Well, this is an interesting issue that arises at the interstices of a lot of conservation and environmental issues and economic growth issues. The economist's answer would be price because that's what allocates scarce goods. I think what we've all identified here is we have a problem because of the commons and so the normal market economic mechanisms don't work because you really don't have in many areas the property rights or the ownership and so you've had people who will get short-term gains and not invest in the long term.

So part of what we've been discussing is how through governance reforms, lessons about how you can create rights-based systems, but also sort of a recognition that various communities have to have their sensitivities taken into account, so in some areas, it's a question of who's going to get the fishing rights, whether it'll be local population. Then in any market-based system, you also have to have enforcement, and part of the big problem in this area is whatever rights and aspects haven't been enforced. So there's huge steps that can be taken in these areas.

The reason I'm taking this approach is that what I've seen in other areas of development and environment, if you pose the two against each other, if you put growth against environment, I think you're going to spend a lot of time debating and there's going to be a lot of poor people who want to grow and develop and want their sources of protein. So maybe it's just my bias but I found whether it be carbon and climate change or others that you can find a lot of win-win, mutual solutions and you're likely to build a broader coalition and build more support.

I think it's time that that be tried in the oceans area because we're starting to see the coalescence of different communities; science, island-based nations, coastal nations, people recognizing this. But the question is how do we interconnect these? And I think the start is set some basic goals and then share the information about what works and then try to finance it.

MICKLETHWAIT: There's another question just beyond the white hand - white-shirted…

JERRY KNICK: Mr Zoellick, my name's Jerry [Knick] and I actually owe you a debt of gratitude because three years ago, [unclear] programs, you provided some funding for us to develop a concept for developing sustainable fisheries as an industry-led activity [in Indonesia]. Three years later we've gone through the process of developing all the parts and pieces and we're about to start [unclear] and building the infrastructure that's part of the plan. Interestingly enough, the most difficult part of this process has been financing it. My experience has been that the financing institutions of the world [unclear] in this space [unclear] fisheries [unclear] they'll perceive the risk of being too high to get involved. So my question to you is how accessible is financing going to be for fisheries in transition part [unclear] overall [plan as] proposed?

ZOELLICK: Two points. The first one is, I think what we have to recognize, that some of these areas we're talking about public goods. So the question is - and this is why we're starting out with this $300 million catalytic fund and we're looking to governments, some private sector participants and others, there'll be some investments that wouldn't be made on a basic market term.

Second, however, as I've suggested, you could switch what are in some cases a lot of misapplied subsidy policies or also policies that might create incentives or disincentives with fees and licensing or taxes or other arrangements to try to create the right economic structure. What I've been encouraged by is you're finding more and more private sector players that look at the facts that we've seen and realize this can't go on and so they're interested in trying to invest in a rebuilding effort.

The World Bank has a private sector arm, IFC, that is also going to be part of this, so as we work with partners to be able to try to get the governance in the market and the protected areas right to try to see how we might be able to catalyze further private sector investment in addition to the public sector side. On the public sector side again, we as an institution, as I mentioned already, have about $1.6 billion in this area. That is not money that we decide by ourselves. We have to do that with governments.

So part of this goes back to getting the word out to the governments about how these are in their interest and then they can use the various financing mechanisms that we have, whether it be coastal zone or fisheries or marine protected areas, which we're involved with all of it. But then let me make the second point, 'cause it's something I want to emphasize about the World Bank's involvement - something I've tried to emphasize over the past four and a half years of my tenure. We're trying to work as a network player here.

With a lot of the questions and the reason why this conference I think is particularly valuable, as others that have led to it, is we see ourselves in a catalytic role but certainly not one that knows all the answers. I know I've been with John at a couple of different functions where I've just been stunned by some of the insights that you have, not surprisingly, of people in marine biology, others that have devoted themselves.

So what I do want to communicate with people, I'm glad our modest investment with you has started to pay off, but where we see ourselves as trying to be a support in a process is to use the networks that we have across different communities but frankly draw on the ideas of people in this room and others that are committed to it.

MICKLETHWAIT: I'm very sorry. Unfortunately we have to come to an end there because Bob has to catch a plane. But I would like to thank him…

ZOELLICK: Actually, to see the Finance Minister.

MICKLETHWAIT: To see the Finance Minister to try and raise money for this great purpose. I would like to thank him very, very much for coming in and for making the time. It's been a heroic scheduling appointment to come here. It's a delight as usual to have you, and I will take you off and we will hand over to [Dominic Ziegler] up here. Thank you.