$3 trillion and rising

The ocean is the backdrop to the $3 trillion "Blue Economy" – and will be the next battleground for business leaders and investors worldwide. Here's why.

What makes the ocean important? Why is it under stress like never before? And what can we do about it?

The ocean makes up over 70% of Earth’s surface, yet faces multiple threats – not least from climate crisis, acidification, overfishing and plastic waste, to name but four. For it to continue to thrive, it will require not only protection, but also innovation and investment: a sustainable ocean is therefore also an enormous business opportunity.

The challenges and the opportunities of the ocean were the focus of BlueInvest Day 2020, an event hosted by the European Commission in Brussels in February with more than 500 business leaders, investors, and government and financing professionals in attendance.

Cumulative plastic waste generation and disposal*

* Solid lines historical, dashed lines projections | Source: Science Advances, Geyes et al. (2017)

How to move it: the $3 trillion needle

The “Blue Economy” will be worth $3 trillion a year by 2030, according to the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD). Comprising fisheries, marine transport and waste management, amongst others, it ranks as the seventh largest sector in the world by output.

As well as being a major source of food, the ocean also produces over half the oxygen we breathe. “It fills our lungs, it fills our stomachs and it fills our wallets,” as the World Economic Forum’s Max Hall puts it. It is a vital natural resource.

Kicking off with a joint announcement of a €75 million Blue Economy Fund pilot with the European Investment Bank (EIB), Virginijus Sinkevičius, the European Commissioner for Environment, Ocean and Fisheries outlined what he thought were the opportunities ahead.

“Oceans are the first in line to be hit by climate change,” he explained. “But they also hold many solutions to tackle the climate emergency in every single marine industry – from fisheries and aquaculture, to offshore wind, wave and tidal energy, blue biotechnology and many other innovation-related fields.”

How to invest it: the role of investors, start-ups and banks

A keynote speech from BNP Paribas’ Pierre Rousseau, Strategic Adviser for Sustainable Business Solutions, put the spotlight on the role banks could play, notably in structuring and embedding financing mechanisms into conventional banking products. Implemented well, they could be vital for the creation of the right incentives to achieve outcomes aligned with the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (UN SDGs).

“Banks should play a pivotal role, connecting the dots, linking investors, corporates, innovators, entrepreneurs, and organisations like the UN,” explained Pierre. “It is a new way of looking at a bank’s role in the global economy, including the Blue Economy.”

With the remainder of the event focused on pitches from start-ups to investors, it has also become evident that new technologies, systems and products will play a crucial role in both protecting the ocean and in meeting the UN SDGs – including low carbon energy production, energy efficiency and safe and efficient food production.
How to spot it: the opportunity
Innovators and start-ups were out in force at BlueInvest – with two of the most exciting opportunities presented focusing on renewable energy and aquaculture.

1. Wave energy: producing clean energy from the ocean
One of the largest potential sources of renewables, wave energy has been long discussed as the perfect complement to solar and wind power that could be key in realising the holy grail of a sustainable future: 100% renewable energy production. While the technology has faced many challenges, companies have made great strides in harnessing the ocean’s natural energy in viable ways, addressing, for example, storm sustainability and transmitting energy to the grid.

2. Aquaculture: RAS (Recirculating Aquaculture Systems) – land based solutions for safe, greener fish farming

A land-based system for the farming of fish, recirculating aquaculture systems seek to address food security, quality challenges and environmental concerns. With a biological firewall, an RAS allows for fish farming that ensures no contaminants, micro-plastics, parasites, pesticides or any other contaminants in the end product. The RAS also allows for control of water temperature, velocity, oxygen levels and sunlight to provide optimal conditions for fish production. The result is steady and predictable fish yields that are safe and without negative environmental impacts.