Over the past two decades, the ‘blue economy’ has increasingly captured the increased awareness of the role of the oceans in national economies. Moreover, it has also slowly but steadily emerged as a concept that captures the goals of sustaining economic development opportunities emerging from the oceans’ wealth while also aiming to maintain ocean ecosystem health. As such, the term ‘blue economy’ aims to combine the multifaceted economic, environmental and social importance of the oceans along five key components: ecosystem resilience, economic sustainability, community engagement, institutional integration and technical capacity. However, many interpretations of the blue economy are more an aspiration than a blueprint with the term predominantly being used as a catchy buzzword by a variety of actors for a variety of purposes. Moreover, the commonly used ‘win-win-win’ rhetoric of blue growth – emphasizing gains for coastal communities, the environment and investors at once – undermines progressive and transformative solutions to the disadvantage of small-scale users, with blue growth agendas (often) only producing environmental and social injustices rather than also minimizing environmental and social harms. Given this inherent conceptual ambiguity and confusion over its social and environmental sustainability, one wonders how the evolution of a newly envisioned management and governance concept – the blue economy – can serve as an internationally recognised blueprint for the sustainable development of our oceans. How can the blue economy retain its alleged credibility that is currently undermined by contradictions between economic growth and capital accumulation on the one hand, and narratives on environmental and social sustainability on the other?
To answer such fundamental questions, we need to know more about the various blue steps taken, identify how different blue initiatives conceptually addresses the tense bioeconomic relations of protection, growth and equity, and assess how/if the oceans are (able to) contributing to national economies in a sustainable way, or if rapid and unchecked blue growth is only to produce numerous environmental and social injustices. This is particularly relevant in and for the Arctic.
With rapid changes underway across the circumpolar north, questions are being asked both about the sustainability and profitability of northern economic ventures and about conditions for local and regional development. As such, discussions on the blue economy – both from a conceptual and an ocean management perspective – have also found their way into northern climes. The Arctic is where we observe the strongest impacts of climate change. The region is rich in resources, but its unique ecosystem is fragile. As such, today’s Arctic political agenda concerns how to govern best emerging disputes between the various industries and stakeholders involved. An interdisciplinary, multi-stakeholder dialogue on the region’s blue economy could be an important tool contributing to finding the most suitable approaches to best manage future ocean-related economic activities.
Through international cooperation in education, research, and outreach, the Thematic Network (TN) on the Blue Economy and the Arctic (TN BlueArctic) will contribute to capacity-building in the High North and promote sustainable approaches to Arctic blue economy growth.