The transition to a greener, more sustainable economy will be impossible without the support of industries based around the ocean and coasts – known as the blue economy – according to the European Commission.
“There can be no Green Deal without a sustainable blue economy. They are deeply interconnected,” said the EU’s environment commissioner Virginijus Sinkevičius at a EURACTIV debate last week.
“The blue economy is a very dynamic sector full of innovation potential, which is essential to make such transformation happen,” added Sinkevičius, who is in charge of environment, oceans and fisheries at the European Commission.
The Lithuanian politician highlighted different areas of the blue economy that can help deliver the EU Green Deal, citing sustainable fishing practices, the recycling of disused offshore platforms and, vitally, ocean energy.
“Twenty years from now, ocean energy will be powering most of the EU,” said Sinkevičius. “We already have the plans in place that will lead to quintupling of offshore wind within the next 10 years. That’s not just the vision, it’s already happening. And we will go to 25 times the current capacity by 2050.”
The ocean holds great potential for producing renewable energy, including offshore wind and tidal energy. There are now projects for floating wind turbines, allowing energy to be used in deeper waters. These could become commercially viable by 2030.
The European Commission estimates that 3-4% of sea space will be needed for this renewable technology, according to Bernhard Friess, director of maritime policy and blue economy, at the executive’s maritime branch.
“This is, of course, not easy in a congested sea space, like we have in the North Sea, in the western waters in the Baltic, especially, also the Mediterranean, where there’s shipping, where there’s fishing and many other activities where we need to be very careful not to harm sensitive, environmentally sensitive areas,” Sinkevičius said.
The blue economy is a large, complex ecosystem, with a turnover of more than €650 billion which provides almost 5 million direct jobsto EU citizens.
Traditional sectors, like fishing and tourism, could stand to lose out if new technologies like renewables are not implemented carefully. These industries have already been hit hard by COVID-19, as lockdowns and travel restrictions have closed hotels and restaurants.
Already, Europe is beginning to see tension between traditional coastal economies and the development of renewables. In France for instance, fishermen have complained that plans for offshore wind farms impact their fishing ground.
Spatial planning is essential to co-existence and effective space use, said Tove Lunde, head of safety for new energy solutions at Equinor, the Norwegian energy company.
“Very early we start out trying to map out who’s our stakeholders and, of course, trying to understand what is a potential impact of a development. That will be a very important part of the development of a project and then the permitting and consenting process following standards and accepted protocols of the industry,” she said.
EU countries are in the process of creating maritime spatial plans to work out how best to use sea space.
“We will use our maritime space rationally and effectively to make room for all economic activities as well as protection of marine life and habitats,” Sinkevičius said.
“And we will play a leading role in the global arena, not just on spatial planning, but also on sustainable fishing, aquaculture, plastic pollution, and so forth”.
To bring all interests on board and move discussions forward, the Commission will propose the creation of a “blue forum” on 12 May
> Watch the full video of the EURACTIV event below
[Edited by Frédéric Simon]