Report: “Investing in the future of the ocean” (March 17, 2022, Leonard:Paris)

The oceans cover 70.8% of the planet. Essential to climate regulation and the preservation of biodiversity, they are now threatened by the effects of human activity. How can we mobilise public decision-makers, industry and investors in the transition to a sustainable blue economy, the keystone of ocean regeneration?

For this round table moderated by Ludivine Serrière, Program Lead / Innovation Catalyst at Leonard, four experts in the blue economy were invited to speak: Catherine Chabaud, Member of the European Parliament, former delegate for the sea and the coast, sailor, journalist and member of the EESC; Émilie Garcia, Head of ESG Climate – Innovation Department at Bpifrance; Christian Lim, Managing Director, SWEN Capital Partners; Geneviève Pons, General Manager and Vice President EJD, Europe Jacques Delors.

Innovating to regenerate the oceans

Without innovation, there can be no sustainable blue economy! Fortunately, experiments are multiplying in this area: Christian Lim mentions the nanosatellites of the French company Unseenlabs, whose electromagnetic signal sensors can geolocate ships that have turned off their positioning beacons and thus combat illegal fishing. At European level, Geneviève Pons mentions a project for a digital twin of the ocean, a replica of the ocean whose data is intended to better document phenomena such as ocean acidification, rising sea levels and biodiversity loss.

The projects are varied: as Catherine Chabaud reminds us, many innovations need to be invented, for example, to develop infrastructures with a positive impact, contributing to the regeneration of the oceans. From now on, infrastructures at sea must provide environmental and social co-benefits and enable the reconciliation of different uses (for example, wind energy production and sustainable fish farming). Maritime transport, through which 90% of the world’s goods are transported, will also have to become more sustainable: for Émilie Garcia, solutions in this area will come from projects relating to the electrification of ports and the renovation of ships, as well as to wind energy and the development of biofuels.


Financing is the key

To see the light of day, these innovative projects will need financing. However, as Geneviève Pons points out, investments in the blue economy are still often slowed down and redirected towards priorities deemed more urgent or profitable. Faced with this challenge, public investors are mobilising: in 2021, the European Commission has released 700 million euros to support the sustainable blue economy; in France, the BPI launched a climate plan in 2020 supported by specific financing and investment mechanisms and dedicated funds.

Private investors are not left out. 95 million SWEN Blue Ocean fund, managed by Christian Lim, invests in ocean regeneration by supporting start-ups that combine positive systemic impact and market opportunities. Three areas are targeted: the fight against overexploitation and pollution of the ocean (plastic, agriculture, noise) as well as climate change solutions. Christian Lim has observed a growing interest among investors in ocean regeneration: institutions (BPI, Ifremer) as well as banks, insurance companies, pension funds and large European and American family offices are investing in the Blue Ocean fund.


Starfish 2030, a European ambition

Launched in 2020 by the European Commission as part of the Horizon Europe Programme, the Starfish Mission aims to regenerate marine and aquatic ecosystems by 2030 by focusing on five areas, which will be the subject of “flagship projects”: sharing knowledge through education, governance, direct protection of targeted environments, the fight against pollution and the sustainable blue economy.

In this last area, the mission wants to accelerate decarbonisation, with the launch, by 2026, of experiments in the Baltic Sea: while 14 million tonnes of plastic end up in the oceans every year, Starfish also seeks to prevent, minimise, eliminate and remedy pollution that damages the health of the ocean, by supporting research into substitutes, the circular design of products and the reuse of waste. A test planned in the Mediterranean should make it possible to better monitor the main flows and sources of pollution. Finally, the transition to a sustainable blue economy will not be achieved without improved governance: holistic, systemic and interdependent, just like the oceans, it will have to be reflected in the appointment of a Vice-President within the European Commission responsible for orchestrating actions dedicated to ocean health.

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