Sustainable Blue Economy – Questions and Answers

(Source: European Commission)

What is the blue economy and how is it contributing to the overall economy?

The blue economy encompasses all industries and sectors related to oceans, seas and coasts, whether they are based in the marine environment (e.g. shipping, fisheries, energy generation) or on land (e.g. ports, shipyards, land-based aquaculture and algae production, coastal tourism).

It is a broad, fast-moving segment of our economy, where over the past decade significant steps have been taken to modernise and diversify. Alongside traditional sectors, innovative sectors are evolving and growing – such as ocean renewable energy, blue bio-economy, bio-technology and desalination – thus providing new prospects and creating jobs. The blue economy is also connected to the on-land economy through a web of spin-offs and supply chains.

According to the most recent figures by the 2020 Blue economy report, the EU blue economy directly employed close to 4.5 million people and generated around €650 billion in turnover and €176 billion in gross value added in 2018.

Under a sustainable blue economy, maritime and coastal activities reconcile economic development, improved livelihoods and social inclusion with fighting the climate crisis, protecting biodiversity and ecosystems, using resources responsibly and achieving the zero-pollution ambition.

How can the blue economy contribute to the European Green Deal?

With more sustainable models, the blue economy will use the oceans’ resources to contribute to achieving the goals of the European Green Deal of a more resilient and climate-neutral European economy. This includes:

  • a 90% reduction of greenhouse gas emissions from maritime transport, which accounts for more than 80% of global trade in terms of volume.
    • Decarbonising maritime transport (as well as fishing operations) will decrease greenhouse gas emissions, as well as air and water pollution and underwater noise.
    • Under the Fit for 55 package, the Commission will propose a series of legislative measures to incentivise the deployment of renewable / low carbon fuels and onshore power supply in ports.
  • minimising the environmental impacts of fishing on marine habitats with measures such as specifications for fishing gear and mesh sizes, closed areas and seasons. The Commission is now preparing a report on the implementation of these measures and will publish a new action plan with the aim of further reconciling fishing – including bottom-contact fishing – with biodiversity goals.
  • turning blue economy sectors more circular. For the recycling of large ships, the EU has a unique and ambitious set of standards in the Ship Recycling Regulation, that the Commission plans to revise by 2023 to possibly extend its scope and reinforce the existing regime.
  • expanding offshore renewable energy, which could generate a quarter of the EU’s electricity in 2050. To speed up its development, in 2020 the Commission published a new EU offshore renewable energy strategy that aims to multiply five-fold the capacity for offshore renewable energy by 2030 and 30-fold by 2050.
  • contributing to the transition towards a sustainable, low-carbon food system in line with the EU farm-to-fork strategy, including through developing and promoting low-impact aquaculture (such as low-trophic, multi-trophic and organic aquaculture). The new strategic guidelines for EU aquaculture set out the vision and an operational path to achieving this transformation. In 2022, the Commission will also table an initiative on algae to support the development of this innovative sector, which has the potential to become a significant source of low-carbon alternative food and feed materials. Moreover, a forthcoming initiatives will set new marketing standards to improve consumer information on the environmental and social sustainability of seafood and its carbon footprint.
  • developing nature-based solutions to adapt to sea level rise, depollute areas or fight eutrophication.

How can a sustainable blue economy contribute to a green recovery?

Innovative technologies such as big data, artificial intelligence, advanced modelling, sophisticated sensors and autonomous systems are likely to transform the blue economy in the immediate future.

The EU must be at the forefront of these changes and exploit its own strengths. Shipyards need to get ready to produce zero emission vessels. As the current leader in the production of wind, wave and tidal energy and the largest maritime space in the world, the EU is uniquely placed to develop offshore renewable energy.

The EU imports 65% of its seafood, thus there is a real market for more food and feed production from the sea, especially from low-impact aquaculture.

Transitioning to a sustainable blue economy is also about resilienceMaritime and coastal tourism accounts for 60% of the employment in the blue economy. Over half of the EU’s tourist accommodation establishments are located in coastal areas and 30% of overnight stays are at beach resorts.  This sector has suffered severe effects from the pandemic. We must learn from this crisis and rebuild a more resilient system. Following the Covid-19 outbreak, the Communication has adopted a series of initiatives to re-enable safe tourism and pave the way for a more resilient and sustainable sector. The Commission is also preparing a guide on the many funding opportunities available.

A sustainable blue economy can create many attractive jobs. Between 2017 and 2018, employment in marine renewable energy (offshore wind) has increased by 15% and it could triple by 2030. The Commission will support industry and vocational training institutes to bridge the skills gaps and prepare qualified workforce.

How will the EU finance the transition?

Member States and coastal regions should make use of the different tools and funds at their disposal to transition to a sustainable blue economy, notably through the the European Maritime, Fisheries and Aquaculture Fund or recovery funds.

The European Commission and the European Investment Bank will align efforts to reduce pollution in European seas, especially in affected water bodies such as the Mediterranean Sea. Both sides will cooperate on  a comprehensive market study and on building a pipeline of investable projects for pollution avoidance and reduction, such as, biodegradability, recycling and re-use along the entire plastic value chain. On that basis, both sides will consider appropriate solutions to increase access to financing, including through risk reduction facilities, provision of equity or loans, grants, all aimed at incentivizing private and public financiers to provide additional liquidity to such projects.  

The European Commission will also cooperate with the European Investment Fund to explore a framework that would facilitate the use of shared management financial instruments for a sustainable blue economy.

Sustainability principles should be mainstreamed into all investment decisions, including corporate ones. The revision of the EU taxonomy is relevant in this respect. In addition, the Commission and the European Investment Bank (EIB) will continue to advocate for sustainable blue economy finance principles with private investors, which will create tangible opportunities for new jobs and businesses. To address the specific needs of blue economy SMEs, the Commission’s BlueInvest Platform provides them with customised support, visibility, access to investors and investment-readiness advice. The BlueInvest equity fund will combine financial contributions from the EU budget with private venture capital to finance blue tech start-ups.

What will change following this Communication?

Ocean and seas are subject to cumulative impacts from human activities, and those impacts know no borders borders. A system managing each sector independently and allowing sectors to ignore each other is therefore inadequate. We need one single concept – that of sustainability – that must apply across sectors and across borders.

There are several areas of the maritime economy that can benefit from such a coordinated approach:

  • The space available for maritime activities is limited and solutions therefore need to allow fishing and energy generation, transport and tourism to co-exist and even benefit from each other’s presence. The Blue Forum will allow such dialogue for operators so that they can create synergies, reconcile competitive uses and reduce the impact of activities on habitats while leaving space for nature to run its course undisturbed.
  • To adapt to the challenges of our time, the EU blue economy needs to be innovative. The Communication proposes to better coordinate data collection and improve forecasting and modelling to allow for better knowledge of oceans dynamics and a better understanding of the impact of activities at sea. The candidate Horizon 2020 Mission on oceans will mobilize all players, including citizens, towards common purposes such as finding solutions to plastic pollution, coastal erosion or biodiversity loss.
  • EU countries share the seas also with non-EU countries. They need to join forces on common issues that could never be tackled by individual countries. The EU will continue to develop tailored strategies for each European sea basin and extend the same cooperative approach to neighbouring countries that share with the EU a basin, marine living resources and geo-economic features.
  • Security is essential to every economic activity, but control in the open seas is costly – even more so if each Member State and each authority, from civil protection to navy, has to do it on its own. Sharing information, which is the object of the Common Information Sharing Environment for the maritime domain (CISE), will allow Member States’ authorities to access a multitude of data, carry out common analyses and share human and physical resources (such as vessels and aircrafts).

To facilitate and accelerate the transition towards a sustainable blue economy, the communication announces a series of legislative and voluntary initiatives to be rolled out over the coming years with the support of EU funds. These include strengthening vocational training and education in blue skills to address workforce needs, fostering more resilient and sustainable forms of marine and coastal tourism, facilitating market access for innovative marine products such as algae and improving consumer information on the environmental and social sustainability of seafood and on its carbon footprint. The purpose of the Communication is to lay a foundation on which to build the initiatives of the next few years, including initiatives that are not yet planned. The European Commission will be working closely with the Member States and regions, so that Europe can move ‘as one’ towards sustainability.

For more information

Press release – European Green Deal: Developing a sustainable blue economy in the European Union.

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