Forty percent of the world’s population live near coastal areas, more than 3 billion people utilize the oceans for their livelihood, and 80 percent of world trade is achieved using the seas. The oceans, seas and coastal areas contribute to food security and poverty eradication. And yet, the oceans are under severe threat by human activities, where economic profit are at the expense of environmental degradation. Acidification, pollution, ocean warming, eutrophication and fishery collapse are just some of the examples of the consequences on the marine ecosystems. These threats are detrimental to the planet and are long-term repercussions that demand urgent action to protect the oceans and the people who depend on them.
Sustainable Development Goals 14: sustainable use of the oceans
In 2015, all United Nations Member States adopted a development policy on sustainability which centers around the 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDG). The 17 goals provide a global blueprint for peace and prosperity of people and the planet and are set to be achieved by 2030. Goal 14, labelled Life Below Water, concerns conservation and sustainable use of the oceans, seas and marine resources for sustainable development, and demands international cooperation for the oceans to get back in balance.
Reaching Goal 14 requires universal action to protect the planet and calls for implementation of international forces, through institutional and legal frameworks. Progress has been made, but the targets by 2030 remain a long way off, highlighting the need for action today.
The oceans and seas are a key source to food, energy and minerals, and are being used more and more for multiple sectorial activities. Common examples are fisheries and aquaculture, and the processing and trade of these resources. The maritime transport also plays a big role in the globalized market in the form of containerships, tankers, and ports for the vessels. Furthermore, coastal tourism is the largest business within ocean related activities in terms of employment.
For the past few years, the use of term “Blue Economy” has increased and has e.g. been used by the UN, EU, OECD and the World Bank to explain the nexus between sustainability, economics and the ocean. In fact, the UN notes that the Blue Economy is exactly what is needed to implement SDG 14, Life Below Water.
What is a Blue Economy?
“Blue economy” is an economic term linked to exploitation and conservation of the maritime environment and is sometimes used as a synonym for “sustainable ocean-based economy”. There is, however, no consensus on the exact definition and the field of application depends on organization that uses it. The UN first introduced “blue economy” at a conference in 2012 and underlined sustainable management, based on the argument that marine ecosystems are more productive when they are healthy. This is backed up by scientific findings, showing that the earth’s resources are limited and that greenhouse gases are damaging the planet. Furthermore, pollution, unsustainable fishing, habitat destruction etc. harm the marine life and are increasing day by day.
The UN specifies Blue Economy as a range of economic activities related to oceans, seas and coastal areas, and whether these activities are sustainable and socially equitable. An important key point of Blue Economy is sustainable fishing, ocean health, wildlife, and stopping pollution. The UN iterates that the Blue Economy should “promote economic growth, social inclusion, and the preservation or improvement of livelihoods while at the same time ensuring environmental sustainability of the oceans and coastal areas”. This points out the importance of global cooperation across borders and sectors. This also indicates that governments, organizations and decisionmakers need to join forces to ensure that their policies won’t undermine each other.
The use of the seas, the oceans and the coastal areas has accelerated the past years. The OECD describes the ocean as the next great economic frontier as it holds potential for wealth and economic growth, employment and innovation. And while the economy includes existing businesses such as fisheries, coastal tourism and shipping, it also focuses on the development of new emerging sectors that were next to non-existent 20 years ago e.g. blue carbon sequestration, marine energy and biotechnology; sectorial activities that create potential and opportunities for training and employment, but also fight climate change.
Benefits of blue economy: create green energy and fight climate change
Blue Economy has the power to obtain better governance of marine ecosystems, lower emissions, a more just health standard and be a player in fighting climate change. In the recent years, emerging sectors within energy have grown exponentially, and oceans are popular sites for renewable energy. Alternative energy sources such as wind energy, hydropower and tidal energy are fitting for marine environments. Especially offshore wind (including floating wind turbines) is fast growing and has around for many years – the first offshore wind park erected in 1991 in Denmark, and the quantity of offshore wind farms was 162 in 2020, according to WFO. The report Offshore Wind Outlook 2019 by the International Energy Agency (IEA), offshore wind power has the potential to generate more than 18 times the global electricity demand today. Wind farms require specific professions and therefore create jobs in construction, maintenance and administration.
Offshore wind energy is only one example of benefits of Blue Economy. Others are offshore aquaculture (an emerging approach to fish farming), wave and tidal energy, seabed mining and blue biotechnology, which uses, among others, shellfish, bacteria and algae for development in health care and energy production. Moreover, existing industries, such as shipping and tourism, have potential of growing and become greener with new technologies.
To support the Blue Economy, both the European Union and the United Nations have developed a long-term strategy that aims to support facilitate sustainable ocean-based economic benefits by implementing climate-resilient and inclusive blue economy policies that reduce human impact. Some countries have also taken it upon themselves to implement strategies and policies that support the idea of Blue Economy. Among these are Denmark and Norway that have a clear focus on the shipping industry.
Supporting the Blue Economy transition
While many countries work towards a greener agenda by advancing their ocean economies, achieving such endeavors are still challenging. Global governments need to transition a small part of their economy towards achieving a global, healthy blue economy. A part used for investing in modern infrastructure, technologies, R&D, education and creating jobs. Transitioning away from an agricultural industry towards a bluer economy will be demanding. This means that governments must work together to make blue economies sustainable, share research and know-how.
Multiple global organizations provide dialogue and guidance by creating international events. In beginning of March 2022, The Economist hosted World Ocean Summit on achieving the 2030 targets. In February 2020, The European Commission also hosted One Ocean Summit in Brest, France, to take new steps to strengthen EU leadership in protecting the ocean. At last, the UN Ocean Conference will take place in June and July in Lisbon and will focus on saving our oceans and protecting our future.