What is Blue Growth and why is it important?

“Blue Growth” is fast becoming a fashionable term

Dr. Stephen Hall

Published: Updated:

World Economic Forum – Future Global Agenda series

“Blue Growth” is fast becoming a fashionable term. Drawing on the concept of ‘Green Growth,’ which describes how national or international strategies can achieve economic development by sustainably using natural resources, Blue Growth describes how investments in oceans can achieve the same goal.

Marine-based industries already contribute $4 trillion to the global economy, with plenty of opportunity for growth. The challenge is to manage that growth sustainably and equitably. Tied up in these discussions are issues related to food security and nutrition, livelihoods, climate change, and recreational and cultural uses of the ocean.

There are, in essence, four dimensions to a Blue Growth strategy.

1. Preserve the ocean’s natural assets

The most obvious natural asset in the world’s blue economy are our fish stocks. Fisheries play a critical role in many economies as a source of food, nutrition and livelihoods, especially for the poorest and most vulnerable in the developing world. Fisheries also serve as an engine for economic growth; the global trade in wild-caught fish is currently valued at around $90 billion, the catch sector directly employs around 40 million people and many more are engaged in downstream activities.

Given these important contributions, it is imperative that we harvest fisheries at sustainable levels to ensure continuing supply. Establishing regulations and tackling illegal fishing are central to achieving this goal. Currently, it is estimated that 20 percent of marine catches are illegal. Working with the Metro Group and others, the World Economic Forum’s Global Agenda Council on Oceans has helped foster initiatives to improve product traceability and transparency in fish supply chains to help address this challenge. Progress is encouraging, but further efforts are needed.

2. Improve our coastal environments

Ensuring the environmental quality of our coastal communities is key to people’s health and well-being. It is also key to sustainable economic growth.

Rapid coastal development in many emerging economies often brings changing land use patterns, industrial development and increasing coastal populations. These, in turn, impose environmental pressures that can only be mitigated if local and national governments plan development effectively and invest appropriately.

Effective measures to treat sewage, manage industrial waste discharges and agricultural run-off are key to a healthy ocean. Improving the water quality of rivers discharging to the sea through urban and industrial areas will be a particularly important element of any plan.

With coordinated action and innovation to manage coastal development, we can get it right. Getting it right means more opportunities for ecotourism are realized and sustained as coastal water quality improves.

3. Capture marine-based economic opportunities

The shipping, oil and gas industries contribute the bulk of the $4 trillion contribution to the global economy from marine-based industries. But there is considerable potential for the oceans to provide new opportunities for wealth generation.
Deep-sea mining (DSM) one such opportunity that is rapidly emerging. At present, however, regulatory frameworks for DSM are lacking or incomplete and the economic benefits that can be derived are poorly understood. The environmental consequences of DSM also need to be better understood and included in regulatory frameworks. Through a combination of case studies and global multi-stakeholder dialogue, the Oceans GAC in partnership with the GAC on Responsible Mineral Resources Management is currently exploring options for fostering informed debate on this important topic.

4. Sustainably increase ocean productivity

Creating sustainable benefit from ocean productivity is core to Blue Growth. Marine farming is a significant area to explore as global demand for fish increases and catches from wild capture fisheries level-off. However, efforts, to increase marine farming will only be successful if the demands they make on the environment are managed.

WorldFish and Conservation International have jointly researched the global environmental impacts of aquaculture. The challenge is to support governments and producers to improve policies and practices so that the environmental footprint grows at a very much lower rate than the expected growth in production. There has been considerable focus on reducing feed, energy, water use, and waste production per unit of food produced at both farm and national levels.

Although fresh water aquaculture is currently the dominant source of farmed fish (about 70 percent) and is likely to remain so, the potential for mariculture to grow in many developing countries remains significant. Seaweed and shellfish culture offer particular promise given their small environmental footprint. Blue Growth is for all of us and it is encouraging that it is a priority for many governments and international agencies. There is a growing appetite to act to address the challenges facing our oceans. The Global Oceans Action Summit for Food Security and Blue Growth closed in April this year with a call for urgent coordinated action to restore the health of the world’s oceans and secure the long-term well-being and food security of a growing global population. At the Our Ocean Summit hosted by Secretary of State Kerry in June, we witnessed commitments from government and private sources valued at more than $800 million to conserve the ocean and its resources for future generations.

Armed with an overview of the issues, the challenge is to support governments and other stakeholders to improve policies and practices so that the environmental footprint of all marine industries increases at a lower rate than the growth in the industries themselves.

The Forum’s Global Agenda Councils have much to offer in support of Blue Growth and it is incumbent upon us to build on the momentum and make sure that we do. The Oceans Council will work with other councils at their Summit in Dubai to identify and explore opportunities. We also welcome engagement with other stakeholders to pursue this topic.

This article features in the World Economic Forum’s Outlook on the Global Agenda 2015, published November 7.


Dr. Stephen Hall is director general of WorldFish and a member of the World Economic Forum’s Global Agenda Council on Oceans.

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