Taskforce on Ocean Governance

Blue Economy

The concept of the ‘Blue’ Economy (or Blue Growth) has emerged over the last decade as an increasingly important new direction for the global economy. The Blue Economy refers to an ocean based economic model which employs sustainable technologies and infrastructure to secure growth whilst also protecting our oceans. The Blue Economy is promoted as a model to improve the environmental performance of existing ‘traditional’ offshore activities such as oil and gas development, ports, shipping, fisheries, marine tourism and other marine industries as well as a tool through which to encourage emerging industries of aquaculture, carbon sequestration (or blue carbon) and renewable energy production, such as wind, wave and tidal energy. However, the extent to which environmental considerations and economic growth are integrated in decision making and how trade-offs between these are made is not clear. In addition, while it is recognised that social dimensions are a core component of ecological sustainable development, these social dimensions are often neglected within the literature associated with the Blue Economy. In order for the Blue Economy to be an effective and transformative new approach to oceans governance it will need to be;

This cluster will aim to bring together the knowledge of scholars working across the many different sectors within the Blue Economy to explore where the social sciences can add value to Blue Economy discourse and knowledge development. In particular it will explore ways in which social sciences can be active within the ‘Blue Economy’ model as it is operationalized and implemented in practice. It will also examine the governance arrangements which will be required to support this. There are many overlaps with other clusters, including e.g. AquacultureEnergy, Fisheries, Recreation and Tourism, Shipping, but also Space and Ecosystem Based Managment and Sustainable Development Goals for example. If you’d like to join the cluster, please click here to become a member. This will allow you to post information on the page and give you the opportunity to receive information and updates via the Oceans Taskforce listserve.

While we do not have funding ourselves, we do hope to foster joint projects via Working Groups, which would bring together cluster members to write grant proposals, put together collected volumes/special issues, or develop webinars, workshops, syllabi, or similar products. All projects should focus on the cluster topic and fit within the ESG Science Plan (http://www.earthsystemgovernance.org/research-agenda/). Working group members should come from more than one institution and should have sufficient expertise to accomplish project goals. Forming a working group can help you to expand your professional network. It will also provide mentoring from the cluster leaders and access to logistical support like web-conferencing from ESG headquarters. To submit a Working Group proposal, please fill out this form and send it to the cluster leader(s) listed below. If you’d like to propose a Working Group that fits in more than one cluster, please send it to the leaders of each cluster in a single e-mail. Scroll down for descriptions of active Working Groups.

Cluster Leader:

Michelle Voyer
University of Woollongong, Australia

Judith van Leeuwen
Wageningen University, Netherlands


Active Working Groups:


Working Group 1: An ESG conference panel on social scientific perspectives towards Blue Growth

Co-Leads: Michelle Voyer (University of Wollongong) and Judith van Leeuwen (Wageningen University)

Products: an ESG conference panel with the possibility for feeding the conference papers into a special issue

Description: A priority cluster activity will be to organize a panel at the ESG conference in November 2018 to explore how different social scientific perspectives can contribute towards implementing sustainable Blue Growth. Papers might explore how a specific theoretical perspective shed light on integrating social, environmental and economic considerations at multiple scales (e.g. global, national or community levels) and the development of governance arrangements and mechanisms that facilitate implementing sustainable Blue Growth. Papers may also explore which social scientific issues emerge in the implementation of Blue Growth within particular regions or related to a specific sector. Papers on a more theoretical or reflexive level can explore critically to what extent Blue Growth changes or reproduces dominant discourses and power relations. The aim is to draw out a social scientific research agenda that can guide this cluster as well as forms the basis for a special issue on this topic.

Participants: we are currently soliciting interest for joining this working group and panel at the ESG conference in November 2018. Please email Michelle Voyer at mvoyer@uow.edu.au or Judith van Leeuwen at judith.vanleeuwen@wur.nl to express your interest.


Working Group 2: The social license to operate of the Blue Economy

Co-Leads and participants: Michelle Voyer (University of Wollongong) and Judith van Leeuwen (Wageningen University)

Products: A workshop, survey and a joint paper

Description: This project began just before the taskforce was created. In fact, it was one of several projects that catalyzed our decision to foster a community around the issues of oceans governance. The project started with an informal meeting at the People and the Sea IX: Dealing with Maritime Mobilities Conference of the Centre for Maritime Studies in Amsterdam (the Netherlands) in July 2017.

The social and political acceptability of ocean based industries, sometimes known as ‘social license to operate’, will play a fundamental role in securing the future potential of ocean sectors and the broader ‘Blue Economy’. Maintaining a social license is a challenge that is experienced differentially across the various industries engaged in the Blue Economy, yet the loss of social license in one sector may have ramifications for all. In particular, the loss of sectoral social license may impact the level of societal trust in the broader concept of a Blue Economy and lead to concerns about ‘blue-washing’. In addition, while social license challenges may be different across sectors, there are likely to be significant benefits in sharing lessons learnt – including innovative approaches to building community trust and support.

This working group organized a workshop during the World Ocean Council Sustainable Oceans Summit in Halifax, Nov 29-Dec1. During the workshop five practitioners active in shipping, oil and gas industry, renewable energy, deep sea mining and fisheries reflected on their experiences regarding social license to operate issues regarding these economic activities and sectors. After that the issues of 1) who (which communities of stakeholders) expresses concerns related to these economic activities, 2) what kind of concerns are expressed and 3) how do companies or sectors deal with these concerns were discussed in small groups. The results of this workshop as well as an online survey on this topic will be published in a report for the World Ocean Council as well as an academic publication.

Closed to new participants.