How the blue economy can help Europe tackle climate change

Oceans are a precious resource and the EU needs to fully recognise their key role in achieving a carbon-free Europe by 2050, explains Deirdre Clune.
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By Deirdre Clune

08 May 2020

This year’s European Maritime Day, which was scheduled to take place in Cork, Ireland on 14-15 May, has been postponed due to the ongoing COVID-19 crisis.

However, the day still provides an excellent opportunity to put some focus on Europe’s seas and oceans and the opportunities they provide, coupled with the challenges they face.

Oceans and coastal communities are precious resources, offering food and helping to keep the climate system in balance while simultaneously offering significant economic opportunities.


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These opportunities lie not only in established sectors like shipping or fisheries, but also in using innovation to meet new energy demands and to sustainably develop our available resources.

Blue growth is the European Commission’s longterm strategy to support sustainable growth in the marine and maritime sectors as a whole.

Over the past decade, several EU Member States have seen their maritime economy grow faster than their national economy as a whole.

“Looking to 2030, we should look to continue this trend. We must encourage exciting new areas like clean shipping, underwater robotics, and the blue bio-economy”

This has also been true in Ireland. In Cork, where I live, we have a rich maritime history spanning more than a thousand years and have the longest shoreline of any county in Ireland.

Maritime is a key economic sector for the county and for Ireland in general. This ranges from manufacturing and energy to research and tourism. Ireland’s blue growth shows the enormous potential of marine resources, which can provide social and cultural benefits as well as economic return for Ireland.

In 2018, Ireland’s ocean economy had a turnover of €6.2bn. The direct economic contribution, as measured by gross value added (GVA), was €2.2bn or 1.1 percent of GDP.

Ireland’s ocean economy provided employment for 34,132 according to 2016 statistics. Meanwhile, 2018 saw a 13 percent increase in turnover, an 11 percent increase in GVA and a 13 percent increase in employment, boosting a “blue” economy with the sustainable use of ocean resources for economic growth through entrepreneurship, investment and research and innovation.

EU support in this area has been very welcome. Looking to 2030, we should seek to continue this trend. We must encourage exciting new areas like clean shipping, underwater robotics and the blue bio-economy.

But more established activities like aquaculture, tourism, and coastal protection are also projected to grow, as are sectors like ports and logistics as they are driven by global trends on digitalisation and big data.

The EU must now focus on what we can do to support these promising sectors, particularly for blue economy start-ups and small companies, which often struggle to get their good ideas off the ground and need that vital support to take their first steps. In Ireland, we are working towards implementing the EU Marine Strategy Framework Directive (MSFD) and the Maritime Spatial Planning (MSP) Directive, which needs to be in place for 2021. Marine Spatial Planning (MSP) is a new way of looking at how we use the marine area and planning how best to use it into the future.

The MSP will try to balance the different demands we place on our seas, including the need to protect our marine environment.

“Impressive figures on employment and growth cannot be maintained unless we take action for sustainable effective protection and management of our marine ecosystems for future generations”

It’s about planning when and where human activities take place at sea and ensuring that these activities are as efficient and sustainable as possible.

Impressive figures on employment and growth cannot be maintained unless we take action for sustainable effective protection and management of our marine ecosystems for future generations.

Looking to the very near future, the entire maritime sector has been affected by the consequences of the COVID-19 crisis.

Strategic sectors, from the fishing industry to critical infrastructures such as ports, sea and inland waterways and Europe-wide supply chains, have been under a lot of strain and have faced a sharp slowdown of their activity.

It is important not to forget that coastal and maritime tourism, one of Europe’s main maritime economic sectors in terms of employment, is suffering enormous economic losses as a consequence of this pandemic.

The EU should do what it can and work with Member States to help the ocean and coastal economy survive this crisis, so that much of the good work and progress of recent years is not lost.

Looking to the future, the European Union needs to fully recognise the key role of oceans – in particular ocean energy – in achieving a carbonfree Europe by 2050.

In this sense, I think it is important that we put the sustainable management of ocean resources higher on the European Union’s agenda and support Member States with significant coastlines in their efforts to build a sustainable blue economy.

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