Editor’s note: The term on everyone’s lips (and documents) these days is Blue Economy. In this issue, The Skimmer takes a look at what various groups mean when they use this term, how it came about, what it looks like in practice or could look like in practice, and why it has some people worried. We’d love to hear your thoughts and experiences about the Blue Economy in the Comments section below.

So what in the world is the ‘Blue Economy’?

Wow! That’s a lot of different meanings for Blue Economy. Are there any aspects that they all have in common?

So if not everyone agrees on what Blue Economy means, why is it getting so much attention?

So how did we get here? Where did this idea of the Blue Economy come from?

  • The term ‘Green Economy’ emerged in the late 1980’s and became popular in the 2008-2011 timeframe, also with no widely agreed-upon definition. One popular definition comes from UN Environment:  a Green Economy “results in improved human well-being and social equity, while significantly reducing environmental risks and ecological scarcities. It is low carbon, resource efficient, and socially inclusive.” Another comes from the Green Economy Coalition: a Green Economy is “a resilient economy that provides a better quality of life for all within the ecological limits of the planet.” In general, Green Economy proponents focus on development that is socially, economically, and environmentally sustainable.
  • The green aspect of the Green Economy didn’t fully resonate with all countries, though, particularly SIDS in the Pacific. For these nations, the oceans are integral to their economies and cultures. Consequently, during the runup to Rio+20 with its emphasis on the Green Economy (and ‘Green Growth’), some SIDS starting using the analogous term Blue Economy to emphasize the importance of their ocean space to their development and draw attention to their extensive marine jurisdictions and economic opportunities they could provide. (It should be noted that there was disagreement among the SIDS about the benefits of using the term, with the Pacific SIDS generally in favor and SIDS in other regions generally more ambivalent.)
  • And ‘Blue Growth’? In our readings, we found that many groups use the terms Blue Economy and Blue Growth relatively interchangeably (as presumably most people are in favor of the sustainable growth of an economy). Blue Economy seems to have gained transcendence in the policy realm, however, as the term Blue Growth may have a slightly greater association with the pursuit of unsustainable development of the ocean economy (examples here and here).

Most importantly, what does a Blue Economy look like in action? Why are people so excited about this?

  • Because there are so many different ideas of what Blue Economy is, there will obviously be many different ideas about what Blue Economy will look like in action. In fact, it is difficult to find ocean development activities that are NOT being billed as Blue Economy activities.
  • To give a flavor for this, one just needs to look at the commitments from the massive Sustainable Blue Economy Conference held in Nairobi, Kenya, this past November with over 18,000 participants from 184 countries; seven heads of state or government; 84 ministers; and leaders from government, scientific, and business spheres. Commitments include:
    • Somalia: To improve regulation of offshore activities such as piracy
    • Uganda: To register all boats to decrease IUU fishing and to prohibit cultivation on hills sloping more than 30 degrees to prevent landslides
    • Cook Islands: To have 100% renewable energy by 2020
    • Palau: To protect 80% of its EEZ from fishing and allow only local fishing operations in the fishable area
    • Tuvalu: To enhance the country’s ocean fisheries certification system
    • Mozambique: To restore mangrove forest to 5,000 hectares by 2023
    • Bahamas: To ban single-use plastic bags, straws, and cans by 2020
    • Autonomous Region of Sao Tome and Principe: To make tourism sustainable and plastic-free
    • Ireland: To purchase aircraft to increase patrolling capability to protect fisheries
    • Kenya: To aggressively combat IUU fishing
    • Multi-country: To support aquaculture value chains in African countries
    • India: To invest in port-led development projects
    • Namibia: To desalinate sea water for agriculture, domestic and industrial use
    • Kenya: To partner with global shipping lines
    • Timor Leste: To protect fragile areas from fishing poachers
    • African Union: To help African countries build capacity to exploit the deep sea.

A comprehensive listing of country commitments can be found here,

So that sounds great! Why does all the talk of Blue Economy have some people worried?

And, finally, let’s look at a few more interesting perspectives on the Blue Economy and fishing

According to Pauly, this reduction in industrial fishing could be achieved largely by phasing out government subsidies to industrial fishing. Globally, governments provide ~ US$35 billion in subsidies to industrial fisheries annually (relative to a global ex-vessel value of their catch of US$140 billion). In addition, illegal fishing and inhumane working conditions constitute an additional ‘subsidy’ to industrial fleets. Pauly does not, however, present a rigorous analysis of possible socioeconomic impacts of measures to reduce levels of industrial fishing (e.g., less foreign capital from leasing fishing rights flowing into SIDS).

[1] For instance, calculations of the value of the EU Blue Economy show: 1) the importance of ocean-dependent and ocean-related sectors in general (5.4 million jobs, gross value of nearly €500 billion annually) and 2) the importance of certain industries (e.g., coastal and marine tourism, marine transport, and energy) relative to others that have traditionally received more attention (e.g., fishing).

[2] A 2016 article by Maria Corazon M. Ebarvia provides a relatively comprehensive look at the sectors that a Blue Economy could encompass:

“First, the blue economy encompasses all economic activities with a direct dependence on the ocean or coastal and marine resources. These include economic activities that are (a) ocean-based, and (b) ocean-related. Ocean-based activities include those that are undertaken in the ocean (e.g., fisheries and aquaculture, offshore oil and gas, mining, ocean energy, desalination, shipping/marine transportation, marine tourism, marine construction). Ocean related activities use products from the ocean (e.g., seafood processing, marine biotechnology, chemicals, salt, etc.); and produce products and services for the ocean and ocean-based activities (e.g., ship building and repair, ports, tourist resorts, communication, maritime insurance and law, maritime technical services, etc.).

Second, the blue economy also includes marine education and research as well as activities of the public sector agencies with direct coastal and ocean responsibilities (e.g., national defense, coast guard, marine environmental protection, etc.).

Third, the ocean generates economic values that are not usually quantified, such as habitat for fish and marine life, carbon sequestration, shoreline protection, waste recycling and storing, and ocean processes that influence climate and biodiversity.

Fourth, new activities are also evolving over the recent years, such as desalination, marine biotechnologies, ocean energy, and seabed mining. There are also innovations in activities that aim to protect ocean health, such as ballast water and invasive species management, waste-to-energy, wastewater treatment systems with low footprint, etc. These activities have to be included and measured in the ocean economy accounts. Ecotourism, eco-ports, and eco-ships aim to make these industries more environmentally sound, while ocean energy offers low carbon and renewable energy source. These innovations and emerging markets offer opportunities for investments and business, further contributing to blue economy development.”

[3] This approach would still require regulating fisheries catches to ensure they were at sustainable levels.