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Ocean economics drives green transition in Europe

The European Commission has published its annual EU Blue Economy Report to take stock and reveal the latest trends and developments in all economic sectors related to the oceans and coastal zones. With almost 4.5 million employees, a turnover of more than EUR 665 billion and a gross value added of EUR 184 billion, the EU blue economy sectors make a significant contribution to the EU economy, especially in the coastal regions. In addition, the report finds that the EU’s blue sectors are a hotbed of innovative solutions and technologies that can help combat climate change and take the green transition to the next level. It also points to the high cost of inaction to tackle climate change, as the damage from sea-level rise could cause direct losses in the EU of more than €200 billion per year by 2080.

Commissioner for Environment, Oceans and Fisheries Virginius Sinkevičius said:

Today’s extraordinary circumstances demonstrate once again the urgent need to accelerate the green transition and improve the long-term resilience and sustainability of Europe’s economy, based on healthy, thriving natural systems. This fifth annual report clearly shows that the sectors of the EU’s blue economy, driven by innovation, technology and entrepreneurship, are making fundamental changes and will play an indispensable role in this transition.

EU Commissioner for Innovation, Research, Culture, Education and Youth Mariya Gabriel said:

The oceans play a key role in enabling the transition to a sustainable economy and complement our response to disruptions and crises. They provide us with vital resources and ecosystem services such as oxygen, food, water, energy, connectivity, temperature regulation and biodiversity.

The most important trends for 2019 and the Covid-19 pandemic

The established sectors, including marine living and non-living resources, marine renewable energy, port activities, shipbuilding and repair, maritime transport and coastal tourism, remain the backbone of the EU’s blue economy in 2019. Compared to last year, these sectors have grown in terms of gross value added (+4.5% to €184 billion) and gross profit (+7% to €72.9 billion), while employing around 4.45 million people remained stable. Thanks to an acceleration in the growth trends of these sectors over the past 10 years, GVA has recorded an overall increase of more than 20% since 2009, while gross profits have increased by 22% and total sales by 15%.

Among the established sectors, the developments in the living resources sector and the marine renewable energy sector are particularly noteworthy. The living resources sector saw gross profits increase by 41% over the past 10 years to €7.2 billion in 2019, making it the fastest growing sector in terms of gross value added after shipbuilding and repair. The marine renewable energy sector, which is a key contributor to achieving the goals of the European Green Deal and EU energy strategies, is growing exponentially and has seen a 17% increase in employment compared to 2018.

Based on preliminary data for 2020, the report also provides an assessment of the impact of Covid-19 in a turbulent 2020. The analysis confirms that Covid-19 has had a significant impact on most sectors of the blue economy. This impact has been more than proportional compared to the rest of the EU economy. This can be explained by the large share of coastal tourism in the EU’s blue economy – 44% of total gross value added and 63% of employment – which was hit particularly hard in the first year of the pandemic and has more than halved based on preliminary figures.

Emerging sectors as drivers for the transition to sustainability

In addition to established sectors, the report highlights the significant potential for further growth of the blue economy through the development of emerging and highly innovative sectors such as blue bioeconomy, blue-tech innovation and robotics, and ocean energy technologies. While these technologies are generally still in their infancy, they have the potential to offer sustainable solutions that can accelerate the transition needed for the EU to meet its ambitious sustainability commitments.

And such a transition is necessary for the oceans to remain a provider of critical ecosystem services such as biodiversity, carbon sequestration, food and materials. However, marine ecosystems are under pressure from climate change and pollution from plastic waste, excess nutrients and chemical contaminants. To manage the long-term impact of these pressures, the EU strives to monitor and anticipate underlying trends and inform EU policy-making accordingly.

Outlook on the role of the Blue Economy with Strategic Foresights

New in this 2022 edition of the EU Blue Economy Report is the reflection on the impact of long-term trends through strategic foresight. In particular, the report addresses recent scenario modeling carried out for various scenarios of sea level rise and coastal flooding in the EU economy. The results show that without climate action, the damage from sea level rise could cause more than €200 billion a year in direct damage in the EU by 2080, mainly due to damage to buildings in coastal areas. However, in terms of indirect impacts, the damage to society can be as high as EUR 500 billion for services in coastal regions, mainly through damage to aquatic ecosystems and coastal erosion. Re-emphasise the need for joint action on climate change and the transition to a sustainable economy, with the blue economy playing a vital role in this transition.

More information

Blue Economy Report 2022

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