Blue Economy: A synopsis



By Capt (NN) Sunday Daniel Atakpa
[email protected]

Earth’s land-based resources are fast depleting on account of growing global population and the tragedy of the commons phenomenon. The tragedy of the commons embodies the economic cum ecological philosophy in which shared natural resources are exploited and overexploited without due regard to resource finiteness, particularly in an unregulated milieu.  It, in effect, imperils, deliberately or inadvertently, future generations’ chances to profit from the same resources. The impact of the tragedy is magnified when viewed against rising global population which hit the 7 billion mark on 31 October, 2011 and estimated to peak at between 9 and10 billion by 2050.   Thus, to meet the resource needs of the rising global population amidst dwindling earth’s land-based resources, the ocean (the author believes the outer space would be the next) has been singled out as the succeeding resource base. The ocean is targeted because of its resource endowment (means of livelihood for over 3 billion people), capacity for wealth creation (over US$ 2.4 trillion per annum) as well as employment generation (over 3 billion jobs) amongst others.  These enormous oceans potential exposes it to the likelihood of suffering the same over-exploitation fate of land-based resources. Thus, to prevent the likely carry over of the tragedy of the commons from land to the oceans, the blue economy was conceived as a global response to sustainable exploitation of ocean resources.

First conceived by Prof Gunter Pauli in 2010 as nature-inspired derivatives for wealth creation through environmental correctness, the concept has since evolved into a purely ocean-based and ocean-related concept through the Rio+20 declarations. The blue in the concept derives from the characteristic blue of the ocean. Although the sky possesses a similar blue colour, it however does not serve as a resource medium (at least for now) like the ocean. The economics of blue economy concept includes, besides traditional fishing and shipping, innovative ocean exploitation such as marine biotechnology, deep sea mining, maritime tourism and renewable ocean energy amongst others. The blue economy, as an ecological economics development strategy is reinforced by the United Nations Sustainable Development Goal (UNSDG) 14 which advocates the sustainable use of ocean resources. Thus, the blue economy strategy claims its international legitimacy on the basis of UNSDG 14.

Critical to UNSDG generally, and impliedly UNSDG 14 and the blue economy, is the principle of sustainable development. Sustainable development, as conceived by the Brundtland Commission of 1987, is development that meets the need of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet theirs.  The sustainable development of nations, particularly littoral states, from the oceans is therefore the raison d’être for blue economy. Thus, blue economy symbolizes and comprehends that form of maritime economy which employs effective regulation through ocean governance regime to achieve ocean sustainability for enhanced economic growth and improved citizenry well-being. A proper understanding of the concept of blue economy begins with the understanding that all littoral states operate one form of maritime economy or the other by default with the difference between them being sustainability constituent. While the former exploited ocean resources under a tragedy of the commons principle, the latter seeks to exploit ocean resources under an international sustainable development framework.

A balanced study of and research on blue economy would inexorably be predicated on sustainable development theory which stands out as an appropriate theoretical framework for blue economy researches. It advocates that economic development must go side-by-side environmental sustainability and social well-being in a manner as not to imperil future generations’ chances of developing therefrom. It is represented by the balanced intersection of the environment, society and economy. Although some scholars advocate the allocation of greater weight on environment while others advocate for society. Either way, there seem to be a general consensus on the allocation of least weight to the economy, which has been the stimulus for the overexploitation of earth’s resources with its attendant challenges to sustainable development.

A major difficulty in blue economy, however, is the measurement of sustainability. This challenge is in itself an inherent challenge of the sustainability concept. It is for this reason that marine (scientific ocean data such as salinity, temperature, depth, current, tide etc) and maritime (economic ocean data such as percentage contribution of ocean resources to national Gross Domestic Product etc) data constitute fundamental aspects of the blue economy. In the absence of adequate and relevant data – when and where needed – computing sustainability becomes difficult, if not impossible. This ultimately defeats the essence of the blue economy. The data which make up the blue economy statistics provide decision makers with accurate information necessary for good planning for activities in the maritime domain constituent with ocean sustainability principles. Such principles include Marine Protected Areas (MPAs) and Marine Spatial Planning (MSP) amongst others. Together, they give effect to the sustainable development element of blue economy.

The MSP embodies the coordination of all stakeholders for regulated and non-conflicting usage of national maritime domain – who does what, when, where and how, while MPA ensures that certain maritime spaces are protected from exploitation/overexploitation periodically or ad infinitum. In essence, under the MSP, the coordinator plans and administers the maritime space for the prevention of the tragedy of the commons. By this, the MSP secures a pivotal position in the actualization of sustainable development under a blue economy. Consequently, littoral states seeking to emplace blue economy regimes must of necessity establish effective MSP where there is none, or strengthen existing MSPs (which may exist by other nomenclatures in reality) where they are weak.

Three countries – one in Europe (Republic of Ireland) and 2 in Africa (Republics of Seychelles and South Africa) stand out as models for the establishment of blue economy. Ireland started her blue economy project in 2012 through an Integrated Marine Plan under the Harnessing Our Ocean Wealth (HOOW) policy. Under the Plan, Ireland established 8 blue economy enablers comprising the Clean Green Marine, maritime security and Research and Development (R&D) amongst others.  Similarly, Seychelles started her blue economy project in 2015 by establishing the Blue Economy Strategy Roadmap Implementation, Blue Economy Department (BED) under the Ministry of Finance, Blue Economy Research Institute, MSP Infrastructure and MPAs.  Also, South Africa established her blue economy in 2014 through Operation Phakisa by establishing “Ocean Economy Labs”, Ocean Act, the integrated ocean governance regime, national MSP and a Department of Planning, Monitoring and Evaluation (DPME) under the Presidency.  All 3 nations provide the essential and mandatory frameworks required for the establishment and functioning of the blue economy. These are credible legal and task-specific institutional frameworks as well as MSP, maritime security and R&D amongst others. The real import of these policies and frameworks are evident in their respective pre and post blue economy era Human Development Indices (0.902 in 2012 and 0.923 in 2016 for Ireland as well as 0.756 in 2014 and 0.782 in 2016 for Seychelles) scores and ratings. Thus, the establishment of sound legal and institutional frameworks as well as effective maritime security, R&D and the maintenance of adequate and accessible national marine/maritime databank are sine qua non for a thriving blue economy.



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