On 17 May 2021, the European Commission unveiled a communication aimed to integrate ocean policy into Europe’s new economic policy in order to ensure that the so-called ‘blue economy’ plays a major role in the implementation of the European Green Deal (EGD).
The communication starts from the premise that a dualism between environmental protection and economy is of no use today. Hence, it proposes a paradigm shift: from ‘blue growth’ to a ‘sustainable blue economy’. For this shift to happen economic activities at sea and in coastal areas need to reduce their cumulative impacts on the marine environment and value chains need to transform themselves to contribute to climate neutrality, zero pollution, circular economy and waste prevention, marine biodiversity, coastal resilience and responsible food systems.
The EU executive will support actions in this regard through a plurality of measures expected to help achieve EGD’s objectives while also creating further employment opportunities in the blue economy sector, which already provides 4.5 million direct jobs in many EU regions.
European support measures
According to the communication regions will be able to engage in the sustainable blue economy thanks to EU funds like the European Maritime, Aquaculture and Fisheries Fund (EMFAF) and a supportive European policy framework to develop offshore renewable energy, decarbonise maritime transport and green port operations, thereby slashing greenhouse gas emissions, air and water pollution. New measures to prevent litter from finding its way into the sea, such as design standards for reusable and recyclable fishing gear, have been announced and circular economy commitments to halve plastic litter at sea by 2030 and restrict the intentional use of micro-plastics have been renewed.
Marine protected areas, which will grow in this decade to cover at least 30% of EU seas, stand out as one important pillar of the new approach. Their expansion will be driven by legally binding targets to restore marine degraded ecosystems, a new action plan to conserve fisheries and marine ecosystems as well as new guidelines to identify and designate additional marine protected areas. All of these three measures will be adopted by the end of 2021.
Adaptation will be key to shield one third of EU population living within 50 km from coastlines from the unavoidable effects of climate change and to help reverse biodiversity loss in marine and coastal areas. Strengthening green infrastructures in these areas is seen as a true enabler for the revitalisation of the tourism sector after Covid-19, particularly through ecotourism. EU funds will be available for regions to better ‘showcase the diverse maritime heritage of the continent’, leave
The many challenges to be addressed by this sector range from reducing unwanted catches and discards to prevent waste generation and the overexploitation of marine biological resources to increasing low-impact aquaculture and untapping the potential of algae production, both to obtain alternative sources of food and feed materials and to remove excess carbon and pollution from the marine environment.
For more information and inspiration
The Interreg Europe Policy Learning Platform is committed to foster the dissemination of knowledge and transferable solutions that regions can adopt to the benefit of a sustainable blue economy: check the recording and key learnings of our latest webinar on ‘Acting now: policy solutions to stop marine litter and plastic pollution’, which put the spotlight on CAPonLITTER and PLASTECO good practices.
Get inspired by other Interreg Europe projects like SMOOTH PORTS, PASSAGE, Islands of Innovation, CHERISH, WLE, Blue Green City, Land-Sea, IMPACT, HERICOAST and EXTRA-SMEs to meet your blue economy challenges and, in the words of Virginius Sinkevicius, EU Commissioner for Environment, Oceans and Fisheries, ‘replace unchecked expansion with clean, climate-proof and sustainable activities that tread lightly on the marine environment’.