Seas At Risk participated in the First Summit of the Blue Economy Business and Science Forum in Hamburg, 12th-13th September. The conference gave a good taste of the opportunities and challenges blue innovation poses to the future of our seas. While EU research seems more and more geared towards a ‘smart’ blue economy, the governance framework – and financial instruments - clearly still need to catch up.
The Forum was launched following the publication in 2014 of the Commission’s Communication on Innovation in the Blue Economy, as a ‘platform for business, science, finance and policy representatives to exchange knowledge and experience, discuss opportunities and barriers for innovation in the blue economy and celebrate scientific and industrial achievements’.
This first gathering of the Forum brought together over 200 stakeholders, mainly from industry, business, science and policy. It concluded that while EU funded research clearly has opened the door to many technology innovations – such as apps to access data in real time, more efficient aquaculture technologies, innovative uses of marine resources, new forms of renewable energy production, etc. - the breakthrough of such innovations is still hampered by lacks in investments in demonstration projects and start-ups.
What we also took away from the conference is that more and more, blue economy developments seem to be mirroring the ‘smart cities’ movement on land, with an all too high reliance on technology, efficiency and ICT. Such technological advances can clearly have positive environmental impacts, such as more integrated and real time data collection for environmental management and monitoring purposes, and more efficient and less polluting production systems. However, the move to such ‘smart seas’ also opens the door for an accelerated development of our seas, which are already heavily over-exploited. This, combined with a very weak implementation of the Marine Strategy Framework Directive (which is supposed to bring our seas in good environmental status by 2020, but is clearly failing to do so) increases the concerns already expressed by Seas At Risk in its ‘Limits to Blue Growth’ position. The push for offshore developments was another clear narrative in the conference, raising concerns about public participation in decision making, and monitoring and control in remote areas.
In a blue economy that is still much driven by a sector-by-sector approach to policy making, dealing with these fast and fundamental changes, including new emerging sectors, will be a key governance challenge. This was also one of the key conclusions of the OECD’s recent report on The Future of the Blue Economy, which points out that – ‘at least for the foreseeable future - regulation of ocean activities is expected to continue to be largely sector-driven, with efforts focussing on the integration of emerging ocean industries into existing and fragmented regulatory frameworks.’ Strengthening integrated ocean management will therefore be a prerequisite and several speakers at the Forum Summit referred to the potential of maritime spatial planning as a key instrument to achieve this. Seas At Risk will therefore continue to follow the implementation of the maritime spatial planning Directive closely.