The blue economy encompasses all economic activities related to oceans, seas and coasts, whether they take place in the marine environment (e.g. shipping, fisheries, energy generation) or on land (e.g. ports, shipyards, land-based aquaculture and algae production). Alongside its traditional sectors, innovative activities are evolving: ocean renewable energy, blue bio-economy and biotechnology, desalination and so on. If the global blue economy were to be compared to a national economy, it would be the seventh largest in the world.
All of that economic activity takes place in the planet’s vastest ecosystem: the oceans. They hold 97% of all our water and sustains 80% of all life forms. But this vastness is deceptive, and hides the fragile state of the oceans, caused by decades of human overexploitation. The devastating effects on the oceans of climate change, pollution and biodiversity decline will challenge the resilience not only of the blue economy, but of society as a whole.
Linked to the European Green Deal and its ambitions in the area of decarbonisation, circularity, biodiversity and zero pollution, the European blue economy has therefore a double role. One the one hand, the blue economy is indispensable to achieve those ambitions. Many solutions (renewable energy, plastic-free packaging, low-impact food) will come from the blue economy. On the other hand, the blue sectors themselves will have to reduce their own environmental and climate impact significantly to contribute to the overall targets.
To guide this double challenge, several EU policies are already in place or being created, and will come together in the new approach for a sustainable blue economy in the EU, expected in May 2021.
“Sustainable blue economy”, “blue growth” or “Integrated Maritime Policy”
The concept of sustainable blue economy takes over earlier denominations such as “blue growth” or “Integrated Maritime Policy”. It encompasses policies guiding the specific blue economic activities as well as the horizontal support instruments such as blue skills and careers, ocean knowledge and research & innovation, investment, ocean literacy and planning.
This portfolio largely overlaps with what used to be called integrated maritime policy (IMP). IMP seeked to provide a more coherent approach to maritime issues, with increased coordination between different policy areas. It focused on issues that do not fall under a single sector-based policy e.g. "blue growth", or that require the coordination of different sectors and actors e.g. marine knowledge. This sense of integration and interconnection is a key pillar of the EU’s new approach to the sustainable blue economy. And as the ocean doesn’t stop at national borders, the EU continues to invest in strong regional cooperation to develop the blue economy in the various sea basins.