Harnessing the Blue Economy

Sustainable Development Goal 14:

On September 25th, 2015, the United Nations (UN) adopted the 2030 Sustainable Development Agenda which outlines 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). The goals collectively address the interconnected and multifaceted issues around the globe, stipulate how we should shape our future social and economic development, and outline what kind of transitions are required to achieve this. 

One goal which is receiving significant attention internationally is SDG 14: Life Below Water. The objective of Goal 14 is to “conserve and sustainably use the oceans, seas and marine resources for sustainable development.” A healthy oceanic system can boost innovation and provide economic opportunities for everyone, including the vulnerable and marginalized, assisting countries in their progress towards all other Sustainable Development Goals. 

Goal 14 Targets:

  • 14.1 Prevent and significantly reduce marine pollution of all kinds, in particular from land-based activities, including marine debris and nutrient pollution. 
  • 14.2 Sustainably manage and protect marine and coastal ecosystems to avoid significant adverse impacts, including by strengthening their resilience, and taking action for their restoration in order to achieve healthy and productive oceans. 
  • 14.3 Minimize and address the impacts of ocean acidification, including through enhanced scientific cooperation at all levels. 
  • 14.4 Effectively regulate harvesting and end overfishing, illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing and destructive fishing practices and implement science-based management plans, in order to restore fish stocks in the shortest time feasible, at least to levels that can produce maximum sustainable yield as determined by their biological characteristics. 
  • 14.5 Conserve at least 10 percent of coastal and marine areas, consistent with national and international law and based on the best available scientific information. 
  • 14.6 Prohibit certain forms of fisheries subsidies which contribute to overcapacity and overfishing, eliminate subsidies that contribute to illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing and refrain from introducing new such subsidies, recognizing that appropriate and effective special and differential treatment for developing and least developed countries should be an integrated part of the World Trade Organization fisheries subsidies negotiation. 
  • 14.7 Increase the economic benefits to Small Island developing States and least developed countries from the sustainable use of marine resources, including through sustainable management of fisheries, aquaculture and tourism. 
  • 14.8 Increase scientific knowledge, develop research capacity and transfer marine technology, taking into account the Intergovernmental Oceanographic Commission Criteria and Guidelines on the Transfer of Marine Technology, in order to improve ocean health and to enhance the contribution of marine biodiversity to the development of developing countries, in particular Small Island Developing States and least developed countries. 
  • 14.9 Provide access for small-scale artisanal fishers to marine resources and markets.
  • 14.10 Enhance the conservation and sustainable use of oceans and their resources by implementing international law as reflected in the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea, which provides the legal framework for the conservation and sustainable use of oceans and their resources, as recalled in paragraph 158 of “The future we want.”

You can find more information regarding the indicators to measure the targets of SDG 14 here.

The Blue Economy:

Interest in the economic potential of the world’s oceans and marine resources is escalating, with the contribution of ocean revenue to the global economy projected to double from $1.5 trillion in 2010 to $3 trillion by 2030. At the same time, however, concerns for the decline in ocean health and its ecosystems, species and genetic diversity are escalating owing to multiple anthropogenic impacts (carbon dioxide emissions; nutrient, chemical and plastics pollution; unsustainable fishing; habitat degradation and destructions; spread of invasive species; etc.) As a result, planning regarding further development of the ocean economy must consider the long-term health of ocean ecosystems if the benefits from ocean-based industries are to be sustained over the long-term. 

The concept of a ‘Blue Economy’, sometimes also referred to as ‘Blue Growth’ or ‘Ocean Economy’, came out of the 2012 United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development (Rio+20) and emphasizes conservation and sustainable management, based on the premise that healthy ocean ecosystems are more economically productive. While an agreed upon definition is lacking for this concept, the general idea is the emphasis that humanity moves beyond business as usual to instead consider economic development and ocean health as compatible propositions. A blue economy is a sustainable ocean-based economy, which emphasizes the triple bottom-line objectives of: (1) environmental sustainability, (2) economic growth, and (3) social equity. 

How exactly a blue economy is achieved, and how success is measured, is still being developed. We are in the fruition stages of an exciting economic opportunity which requires collaboration and negotiation on the global level to ensure all necessary objectives are being met. We must work together to better comprehend what conditions and safeguards make blue economies sustainable, share case studies and lessons learned, and develop guidance that can help us move better from concept to practice. 

Financing a Blue Economic Transition:

There are many countries advancing innovation in their national blue economies. Many of the efforts to further grow ocean-based economic sectors focus not only on growing existing sectors such as fisheries, maritime tourism and shipping, but also on developing newer structures such as renewable ocean energy, blue carbon sequestration, marine biotechnology, and sustainable extractive activities. Although innovation is progressing rapidly, there is a significant barrier to progress: pursuing a blue economy requires access to long-term financing at scale, which is often difficult to come by, especially with shifting priorities in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic. Further, many developing countries have unsustainable levels of external debt that further act as a barrier for transitioning to a blue economy. Blue financing mechanisms need to be developed to overcome these challenges. 

Social Equity and Environmental Considerations:

Another challenge for blue economies is to properly ensure environmental sustainability and social equity while simultaneously harnessing the economic potential of the ocean through multiple economic sectors. Social equity is often seen as the forgotten dimension of blue economic transitions, and there is concern that the interests of those most dependent and vulnerable (ex: small scale artisanal fishers) are often marginalized, mostly for the benefit of other, more visible sectors such as tourism, which are viewed as bringing greater economic benefits. Providing for equity requires a focus on human rights and well-being, as well as inclusive participatory processes. On top of social equity are environmental considerations. Further developing economic activities in the context of declining ocean health requires added attention to ensuring that such activities do not cause additional environmental degradation. Increased focus on the combined impacts of multiple sectors, and the use of tools such as marine protected areas, environmental impact assessments, and strategic environmental assessments are important for the sustainability of the blue economy. 

What Next?

  1. Improve ocean governance at local, national, regional and international levels.
  2. Develop a common understanding of a sustainable ocean economy. 
  3. Ensure stakeholder representation and ocean protection. 
  4. Diversify sectoral representation in blue economies.
  5. Strengthen financing and capacity for blue economic transitions.

Learn More:

EnvironFocus is hosting an online webinar event on Thursday, July 21st, 2022 from 11:00 AM to 12:30 PM EST titled “Harnessing the Blue Economy.” We will be joined by blue economy expert panelists to reflect on core principles, exchange ideas, share strategies, and learn from each other’s analysis, challenges and questions. Panel presentations will be followed by a live Q&A session! If you are interested in learning more about SDG 14 and the Blue Economy, you can purchase your ticket for the event here.

We look forward to seeing you!


  • Economist Intelligence Unit, 2015, “The Blue Economy: Growth, Opportunity, and a Sustainable Ocean Economy.” Briefing paper for the World Ocean Summit 2015. 
  • M.R. Keen, A.M. Schwarz and L. Wini-Simeon, 2018, “Towards Defining the Blue Economy: Practical Lessons from Pacific Ocean Governance.” Marine Policy 88. 
  • Smith-Godfrey, S., 2016, “Defining the Blue Economy.” Maritime Affairs: Journal of the National Maritime Foundation of India 12, no. 1. 
  • United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs, 2021, Promotion and Strengthening of Sustainable Ocean-Based Economies: https://sdgs.un.org/sites/default/files/2022-01/2014248-DESA-Oceans_Sustainable_final-WEB.pdf
  • World Wide Fund for Nature, 2015,  Principles for a Sustainable Blue Economy: wwf.panda.org/wwf_news/?247477/Principles-for-a-Sustainable-Blue-Economy.
Hope Elizabeth Tracey
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