BE Pulse #3: Innovation in the Blue Economy
15 06 2021

As we journey through the most important decade in human history for decision-making, according to Sir David Attenborough, innovation within and between disciplines, sectors of society and national governments is called for like never before. In this edition of Blue Economy Pulse, we shine a light on news from a variety of areas that are poised to experience significant innovation in the years ahead.

Innovation in energy

“The potential for innovation in the Blue Economy space is vast” observed a spokesperson for the U.S. Department of Energy on announcing 17 teams selected to join the 2022 Marine Energy Collegiate Competition: Powering the Blue Economy, an initiative supporting innovators to develop careers in the marine energy sector and the blue economy. The energy contained within ocean waves, tides, and ocean currents around the U.S. is geographically dispersed, sizable, predictable, reliable, and can be developed in an environmentally responsible manner, according to the Department’s “Powering the Blue Economy” report of 2019.

“The Blue Economy in Andalusia”, a report commissioned by the Ministry of Economic Transformation, Industry, Knowledge and Universities, highlights the significant potential for growth and employment in Andalusia of “blue energy” from offshore wind, wave and tidal sources. Created by the Confederation of Entrepreneurs of Andalusia, the report estimates that offshore wind alone could provide 11,000 MW which could meet the consumption needs of 4.7 million Andalusian households.

As the International Energy Agency makes clear in its May report “Net Zero by 2050,” the clean energy transition demands huge leaps in clean energy innovation, involving rapid scaling of available technologies and widespread efforts to bring new technologies to market. The ocean holds significant untapped potential for such growth, whether through wind, waves, tides, ocean currents or the natural ocean thermal gradient occurring across ocean depths.

Innovation in finance

Blue economy finance is another sphere where new and existing innovations need to be expanded at pace to close the enormous ocean finance gap.

As Asian Development Bank’s Vice-President for Finance and Risk Management notes, it is critical for governments to scale up the use of de-risking mechanisms. Instruments such as sovereign blue finance facilities, blue bonds and blue credits can then be deployed to support sustainable blue economy developments led by smart government policy and planning. Private sector investors are increasingly ready to support the transition to a sustainable blue economy and echo the call by ADB and others on governments to implement such risk sharing mechanisms, which would provide a “huge step forward” for the market.

New market entrants are appearing, and many more operating at scale are needed. For example IDB Invest, the private sector arm of the Inter-American Development Bank Group, is structuring the sale of Latin America’s first blue bond, with proceeds potentially to be used to finance projects such as sustainable fisheries, port upgrades and tourism developments in the Caribbean.

Investing in the blue economy is a riskier proposition than its green counterpart for a host of reasons, including the transboundary nature of the marine environment, an outdated and patchy international ocean governance framework and a lack of monitoring, control and enforcement measures for the marine environment in general. A key report on sustainable ocean investment was released this month, identifying the major barriers to be overcome to close the investment gap. Governments around the world can take action on many fronts towards overcoming these; key amongst them is fostering a stable and effective regulatory and policy environment which is cohesive.

Innovation in resource use

An example of the type of cohesion needed within the policy environment to support a sustainable blue economy is addressing waste streams and resource use, requiring innovation in circular economy approaches for example. At the end of May the UK announced a new national circular economy research programme involving 34 universities and 200 industry partners. The UK economy “consumes over 1 billion tonnes of materials every year, or around 17 tonnes per person, contributing to carbon emissions, a huge amount of unnecessary waste and environmental damage” noted the Circular Economy hub co-lead. This new programme will create a repository of national research, knowledge and tools to inform new research, policy and industry solutions, facilitating collaboration across a wide range of sectors.

Meanwhile in April the Government of Finland established a national vision for the Finnish economy to become a carbon neutral circular economy by 2035. Key associated measures include the setting of national targets to halt overconsumption, to limit consumption of raw materials and to double the productivity of resources by 2035. The Government has invited broad participation on this initiative from its citizens, industrial sectors and research institutes, which is providing “valuable information for policymakers”.

Innovation in governance

Inclusive governance processes such as those of the Finnish government are a central feature for blue economy approaches, along with new forms of international partnership to provide opportunities for peer learning and policy innovation.

The Indian Ocean Rim Association (IORA) is one such forum for peer learning and capacity development, bringing together government representatives from 22 countries with interests in the Indian Ocean. The IORA Blue Carbon Think Tank was formed to exchange information on policy frameworks to support protection and restoration of coastal ecosystems in the Indian Ocean region. Opening the IORA Blue Carbon Hub event at the end of May, Bangladesh’s Foreign Minister noted that integrating nature-based solutions into coastal zone management strategies and policies was essential to cost-effectively improve coastal resilience, whilst providing livelihood benefits.

This month India and Norway strengthen their partnership on blue economy developments in India with further dialogue on support for marine spatial planning and waste management systems. This complements existing collaborations between the two countries on sustainable ship recycling and green ports.

Innovation in technology

One of the barriers to investment in the blue economy is a lack of monitoring, control and enforcement. A positive development in this direction came this month with the launch of a new open access portal, Global Fishing Watch Marine Manager, to support monitoring of marine protected areas and ocean science more broadly. We hope to see further technological innovations such as this, along with national capacity building initiatives to enable ocean nations of all sizes to deploy cutting-edge tools for eyes on the sea and effective evidence-led ocean management. NLAI’s Verumar programme is one such example. Led by user needs, we curate technologies and expertise appropriate to a particular blue economy need, blending these with existing tools, capabilities and operations, whilst providing the essential capacity development required to equip teams to support effective blue economies independently in the long run.

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