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Insights into Editorial: India should prepare its cadre for the blue economy

Insights into Editorial: India should prepare its cadre for the blue economy 

12 February 2016

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Blue economy has been a buzzword for few years now. It was introduced by Gunter Pauli in his 2010 book, The Blue Economy: 10 Years — 10 Innovations —100 Million Jobs. It has opened new avenues for bilateral and multilateral work, involving the environment, energy, defence and food production.

  • The oceans, which have always been a source of livelihood, trade, colonialism, storms and piracy, present opportunities and challenges.
  • Professionals connected with the oceans, including the negotiators of the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS), have been prominent since the 1980s.

What is Blue Economy?

The newly set up Blue Economy Strategic Thought Forum India defines the Blue Economy as “marine-based economic development that leads to improved human wellbeing and social equity, while significantly reducing environmental risks and ecological scarcities”.

  • It refers to a healthy ocean, supporting higher productivity. The current focus is confined to marine products, including minerals, as if this is all it concerns. The concept of blue economy is much broader and encompasses even maritime activities, such as shipping services.
  • Blue economy infrastructure is environment-friendly because larger cargo consignments can move directly from the mothership to the hinterland through inland waterways, obviating the need for trucks or railways.

Difference between Blue Economy and Blue-Water Economy:

The blue economy, as distinct from the blue-water economy, encompasses in it the “green economy”, with focus on the environment, and the “ocean economy” or “coastal economy”, with its emphasis on complementarities among coastal and island states for sustenance and sustainable development.

Significance of the Blue Economy:

The central principle of the blue economy is the idea of cascading nutrients and energy the way ecosystems do. Cascading energy and nutrients leads to sustainability by reducing or eliminating inputs, such as energy, and eliminating waste and its cost, not just as pollution, but also as an efficient use of materials.

  • The Blue Economy will promote innovations and open a new world of production and lifestyle. These changes will in turn entice entrepreneurs. They also have the potential to increase rather than shed jobs, as emulating natural systems will mean the deployment of humans rather than machines.
  • Ideas like eliminating air in freezing water, use of food-grade ingredients as fire retardants, growing mushrooms with coffeeshop waste, silk as a replacement of titanium, electricity generated by walking and talking, etc, are mind-boggling.
  • Goal 14 of the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) — “Conserve and sustainably use the oceans, seas and marine resources for sustainable development” — too makes detailed references to the reduction of marine pollution, conservation of coastal and marine areas and regulated fish harvest.

Maritime diplomacy:

Maritime diplomacy had its heyday back in the 1980s, with the sensational discovery of manganese nodules and cobalt crusts on the ocean floor. The euphoria over marine mining led to the establishment of the International Seabed Authority.

  • The UNCLOS, the “constitution of the seas”, which came into force in 1994, became the basis for the legal rights for mining in the open sea.
  • The interest in seabed mining flagged because of escalating costs, but it’s being revived on account of the demand for minerals and metals in industrial development, particularly in China, Japan and India.

India and the Maritime Diplomacy:

The Indian Ocean has been a fulcrum of Indian diplomacy since Independence. During the Cold War, India was extremely active in the UN Adhoc Committee on the Indian Ocean in its bid to keep the Indian Ocean a Zone of Peace, which, in essence, meant keeping the Indian Ocean free of great-power rivalry.

  • But the littoral and hinterland states differed on the meaning of the zone. Many sought the presence of external powers to counter India’s growing strength. But even at that time, cooperation for ocean resources was a priority.
  • Today, India is working with the states in the Indian Ocean region and others to strengthen security and economic cooperation. However, the re-emergence of piracy has added a new dimension.
  • The new focus on the Asia-Pacific highlights the security and economic dimensions. The US rebalancing of forces and counter-measures by China have created a new cold war. New partnerships are in the making in the Asia-Pacific, seeking Indian participation by competing powers. The blue waters of the Indian Ocean have become a new theatre of tension.

OBOR and India:

The Chinese initiative — one belt, one road (Obor) — is a $150 billion grandiose development strategy and framework for China to push for a bigger role in global affairs and to increase its exports.

  • Some see it as an opportunity for India, others as a challenge. Hence, the choice has to be made cautiously, balancing our security concerns about an expanding China with economic engagement.
  • Given the history of Sino-Indian relations, it’s difficult to look at Obor as a benign initiative. But it will be difficult to stay out of a new global highway linking Asia with Europe.

Importance of Regional Organizations:

The importance of regional organizations has increased in the context of the blue economy. PM Modi recently spoke of the blue economy to Saarc leaders.

  • In September 2015, the Indian Ocean Rim Association (IORA) hosted the first Ministerial Blue Economy Conference and identified priorities.

Way ahead:

In the coming years, the blue-water economy will become central to the development of the entire Asia-pacific region. Also, India’s competition with China is likely to be exacerbated by the competition for a piece of the blue economy, as evidenced in Bangladesh.

  • India’s neighbourhood policy too assumes primary importance in light of the blue economy. India can profitably integrate its ongoing programmes like Make in India, smart cities, skill development and self-reliance in defence.
  • Delhi’s forthcoming chairmanship of the BRICS will offer a splendid opportunity to highlight the cooperation needed for the blue economy.


India is no longer hesitant about taking a larger responsibility for securing the Indian Ocean, promoting regional mechanisms and working with great powers like the United States and France with which India now shares many interests. India has also initiated a new process of multilateralism in ocean politics by gluing together security and the blue economy. However, the action on the ground remains to be seen.