Not just the circular economy. In Europe and worldwide, government and corporate interest is growing in the blue economy, a business model that extends the circular economy principles of sustainability and reuse to activities impacting the world’s aquatic ecosystems, not only seas, oceans and coastlines but rivers and lakes too.
According to the first Annual Report on the EU Blue Economy published recently by the European Commission’s Directorate-General for Maritime Affairs and Fisheries and curated by the Joint Research Centre, the sector is thriving in Europe.
In 2016, in fact, the blue economy accounted for 1.3% of the EU’s gross domestic product generating revenues of 566 billion euro, and has been growing consistently, registering a +14% increase since 2009. The sector has also generated 174 billion euro of added value and created 3.5 million jobs.
The blue economy’s main production sectors are fishing, shipping, marine engineering and tourism, which are also now being joined by emerging industries such as biotechnologies and renewable marine energies (examples of the latter being technologies that use wave power and offshore wind energy). In terms of biotech, some EU states have achieved double figure growth, while employment in the offshore wind energy sector has rocketed from 23,700 jobs in 2009 to 160,000 in 2016, so that it now employs more people than the EU fishing industry.
According to the report, geographically speaking, Italy is the third largest of the European blue economies behind the UK and Spain and followed by France and Greece.
The constant growth in the sector is making a sustainable and circular approach crucial to its development. The report’s main objective is to offer an analysis of all the sectors and subsectors of the blue economy to identify investment opportunities and provide indications for future policies, including ocean governance. The EU is committed to creating an investment platform to gather both public and private funds, and to foster sustainable growth in the sector.
"The EU’s blue economy is consistently growing over the last decade and the potential for the future is promising. With investments in innovation and through responsible ocean management, integrating environmental, economic and social aspects, we can double the sector in a sustainable way by 2030," European Commissioner for Environment, Maritime Affairs and Fisheries, Karmenu Vella stressed in a recent article.
Amongst the main challenges ahead, according to Vella, is the problem of marine pollution which is demanding “a revolutionary strategy for plastics, that will involve setting more ambitious recycling and reuse targets, improving port facilities and working with private companies to create a genuinely circular economy.”