Europe Outlines New ‘Blue Economy’ Agenda For The Region’s Oceans

by Tom Wittig and Michael Conathan

When it comes to the economy of our oceans and coasts, the European Union has set an example we can’t afford to ignore.

Last Sunday, the European Commission adopted an updated version of its Integrated Marine Policy, dubbed the “Limassol Declaration.” The plan details the EU’s need for “a dynamic agenda for seas and oceans that supports… a sustainable blue economy.”

It identifies specific marine industries that can contribute to the Commission’s goals of higher employment, cleaner energy, and economic growth. Under the newly amended policy, increased attention will be given to coastal and marine tourism, offshore renewable energy, and job creation.

Throughout the declaration, the Commission also stresses its commitment to sustainability. In just six pages of text, the Commissioners included the word “sustainable” twelve times, and they clearly emphasize the value of non-extractive and restorative industries, specifying their intention to “recognize the value of marine ecosystem goods and services and the protection of the marine environment as an important element for sustainable development and prosperity.”

Despite such lofty pronouncements, the Limassol Declaration has received criticism from numerous environmental organizations, primarily because in addition to non-extractive or self-renewable industries like tourism, fisheries, or offshore wind energy, the policy also calls for development of seabed mining and aquaculture — activities that don’t sit well environmentalists. Greenpeace and several other groups issued a joint statement, saying,treating the protection of the marine environment as a mere ‘pillar’ of the Maritime Policy will in not be enough, as healthy marine ecosystems provide the basis for maritime economic activities”

These groups are calling for a policy that includes greater regard for wildlife and habitat, and avoids promotion of extractive industries.

Last June, the Center for American Progress developed a solution to this issue and outlined a policy for the U.S. that focuses on protection as an economic force, not just extraction. In The Foundations of a Blue Economy, we detail the need to focus additional resources on the development of sustainable fisheries, ocean and coastal tourism, offshore renewable energy, and coastal restoration activities.

Our work adds to the growing body of literature extolling the promise of these non-extractive industries and provides a counterpoint to the vision offered by groups like the American Petroleum Institute, which are desperate to convince Americans that the only way to create coastal jobs is to “drill, baby, drill.”

Future reports in the Blue Economy series will take a closer look at specific ocean industries and resources that are already providing great economic value to our oceans and coasts, or have the potential to rival the economic productivity of industries like oil and gas or seabed mining.

Michael Conathan is Director of Oceans Policy at the Center for American Progress. Tom Wittig is an intern on the oceans team at the Center for American Progress.


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