EU launches blue economy sustainability plan

Dive Deeper

What’s happening? A coastal and ocean industries sustainability plan which calls for blue economy sectors to work in partnership to combat climate change has been launched by the European Commission. The EU’s blue economy has a turnover of over €650bn ($794bn) and supports almost five million direct jobs. The Commission’s plan outlines measures for the blue economy to become more circular and less polluting, with the overall aim to support the EU’s attempts to achieve carbon neutrality by 2050.

Why does this matter? The Commission’s proposed plan is attempting to simultaneously protect marine habitats and biodiversity while improving the sustainability of marine-related industries, both of which will play a key role in mitigating climate change.

The plan targets sectors including aquaculture, maritime transport, coastal tourism and shipbuilding, and will support the objectives of the European Green Deal and the EU’s 2050 Zero Pollution Action Plan. The development of offshore renewables such as floating wind and tidal energy, for instance, support the EU’s 2050 target of reaching 300 GW of installed offshore energy. The role of ports will also be explored, with plans to develop them into green “energy hubs” for cleaner power including hydrogen and other low-carbon fuels supporting the decarbonisation of maritime transport.

Measures to shift blue economy sectors to a more circular mode of operation will also be promoted, which includes developing renewed standards for fishing gear to target ocean pollution, and ship recycling. The sustainability of seafood production is to be targeted through new standards, in addition to funding research in innovative food sources such as algae and cell-based seafood.

The agenda includes aims to protect 30% of the EU’s sea area to reduce biodiversity loss and increase fish stocks, through the establishment of marine protected areas to better protect nature and also coastlines from erosion and flooding. The Commission also points to the climate mitigation benefits of such action. Alongside the obvious reasons for protecting biodiversity, the role of large fish species such as tuna and sharks as carbon stores should be recognised as another incentive for conservation – particularly given the fact that Europe’s waters and coastal environments are home to nearly 50,000 species.

Advancing efforts to preserve biodiversity, alongside the growing size of offshore renewables projects, may result in tensions due to pressures on the amount of available space in the ocean. As such, the EU will establish a “Blue Forum” to facilitate discussions between different sea users to enable cooperative, sustainable use of the ocean. One solution already being explored is multi-use offshore projects that combine offshore infrastructure with biodiversity initiatives, such as Van Oord’s deployment of reef structures at the Borssele offshore wind farm to boost the North Sea’s oyster population.

To facilitate all this the European Investment Bank Group, which comprises the European Investment Bank and the European Investment Fund, will work with member states to support blue innovation and blue bioeconomy initiatives. The Commission is also encouraging private investments to follow ocean sustainability standards such as the EU-sponsored Sustainable Blue Economy Finance Initiative.

On a larger scale, the establishment of strategies aiming to improve the sustainability of marine habitats and related sectors is gaining traction. Last year, the leaders of 14 countries joined the world’s biggest ocean sustainability initiative, pledging to eliminate overfishing, restore shrinking fish populations and end the movement of plastic pollution into the sea over the next decade. Australia recently announced AUD100m ($77.4m) in ocean protection funding, which will go toward the restoration of habitats and industries including fisheries.