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September 29, 2022. The Blue Economy for a Sustainable and Inclusive Recovery session during WTO Public Forum 2022.

Picture by: Loris von Siebenthal / World Trade Organization | Flickr

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Explainer: What is the blue economy?

18 year-old Nadia Diakowska explains the blue economy and its impact on youth employment

As sustainability becomes significantly more prevalent in government policy, a goal for corporations, and a focus of social activism, the blue economy has the potential to shape millions of lives.

It has become increasingly important over the last decade, especially in the development strategies of countries. But what exactly is the blue economy, and how does it impact youth in particular?

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The Blue Economy: Origin and concept

What is the blue economy?

The blue economy, or ocean economy, refers to economic activity associated with oceans and seas. The World Bank defines the blue economy as the ‘sustainable use of ocean resources to benefit economies, livelihoods, and ocean ecosystem health’.

The term was created at the United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development, held in Rio de Janeiro in June 2012. The conference focused on the expansion of the green economy concept to also include countries with coastlines, as well as discussing potential ecological products, such as generating ‘blue energy’.

The term ‘blue economy’ has since been treated as a substitute economic model for sustainable growth centred around the oceans.

How big is the blue economy?

More than 3bn people, over a third of the world’s population, most of whom belong to the world’s poorest nations, depend on healthy oceans for their livelihoods, with oceans connected to more than 350mn direct and indirect jobs.

The blue economy is worth more than $1.5tn per year, with the value of key ocean assets being $24tn and accounting for around 5% of global GDP. The Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) forecasts that the ocean economy might double in size to $3tn by 2030.

The blue economy refers to all industries that directly or indirectly utilise oceans and these resources. These include traditional sectors such as fisheries, aquaculture, tourism, transport, and ports.

Emerging sectors, such as renewable energy, marine biotechnology and robotics, are developing quickly and are expected to play an increasing role in the EU’s transition towards a carbon-neutral, circular and biodiverse economy.

Several nations, including Kenya, Vietnam, Samoa, India, China, Trinidad and Tobago, Tunisia, Gambia, Portugal, and Costa Rica, are heavily dependent on blue economy initiatives as part of their development strategies.

What is the blue economy’s role in youth employment?

The youth employment rate in fisheries and aquaculture is more than double that of adults. Moreover, ocean-based economies provide productive employment opportunities for youth from rural and lower-skilled backgrounds, even during off-seasons, offering a pathway for more inclusive growth.

However, the warming of oceans, rising sea levels, acidification and increasing frequency of extreme weather events are all putting immense pressure on marine ecosystems along with the industries that rely on them.

Global employment prospects for youth remain uncertain, with young people 3.2 times more likely to be unemployed than adults. Many economists are worried that the destabilisation of key ocean-based industries will further exacerbate youth unemployment.

As traditional jobs in sectors such as fishing and tourism become less viable due to environmental degradation, there is a pressing need for innovative solutions and alternative pathways for youth to engage in sustainable ocean-related activities.

Embedding environmental sustainability into the process of structural transformation is increasingly urgent.

How does it relate to the green economy?

Both the blue and green economies are aligned with the principles of sustainable development and aim to reduce dependence on non-renewable resources and promote economic growth while also protecting natural environments. The main difference between them lies in the types of resources used in the given industries.

The green economy prioritises the sustainable management of land-based natural resources. It includes strategies such as water conservation, ethical production and consumption, and green energy. The blue economy refers to the sustainable use of ocean, sea, and coastal resources. It focuses on areas such as green shipping, sustainable aquaculture, and ocean tourism.

How does the blue economy benefit us?

A thriving blue economy not only protects youth employment levels but can also help to minimise greenhouse gas emissions. The High Level Panel for a Sustainable Ocean Economy estimates that the ocean economy can facilitate 21% of the greenhouse gas emission reductions needed to meet the 2015 Paris Agreement. This legally binding international treaty on climate change has a target of limiting the average global temperature rise to 1.5°C by 2050.

Climate benefits can also be generated through ocean finance, the financial tools and investment required to reach a sustainable ocean economy, through which every $1 invested in ocean action could return $5 in benefits.

Technological advancements also have ecological benefits: they can help reduce environmental impacts through monitoring and preventing illegal fishing, protecting marine wildlife and coral reefs, and increasing the efficiency and safety of renewable energy sources.

Governments are also starting to recognise that the ocean can nurture economies and reduce coastal poverty. Current and developing blue economy strategies are on track to benefit both people and the environment through better global ocean management.

Written by:

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Nadia Diakowska

Economics Correspondent

Warsaw, Poland

Born in 2005, Nadia is a graduate of Stefan Batory High School in Warsaw, currently taking a gap year to complete A-levels.

Her main interests include economics, mathematics and psychology. In the future, Nadia plans to study economics and management in the UK.

Edited by:

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Camilla Savelieva

Economics editor

United Kingdom

economics