- The new chair will promote the sustainable use and management of marine resources under the benchmarks of social justice, the blue economy and ocean equity
- This initiative is part of the SDG 14, which aims to protect the oceans and seas and manage marine resources sustainably
- It is led by Professor Miquel Canals, director of the Department of Earth and Ocean Dynamics of the Faculty of Earth Sciences of the UB
Barcelona, 17 January 2023. More than three billion people depend on marine and coastal biodiversity for their livelihoods, and it is estimated that the market value of the marine resources represents 5% of the global GDP. Parallelly, sectors such as maritime transport, tourism, hydrocarbons, infrastructure, renewable energy and telecommunications generate intense economic activity around the sea, but at a high environmental cost. At the same time, the effects of climate change, overfishing, acidification and pollution threaten the conservation of seas and oceans, which host vital ecosystems as a source of biodiversity and which play a decisive role in regulating the climate: they produce oxygen —they are the real lungs of the planet—, capture carbon dioxide generated by human activity, and mitigate the impact of global warming.
Social justice and sustainable blue economy
The University of Barcelona and the environmental consultancy Tecnoambiente have created the UB Chair in Sustainable Blue Economy to promote teaching and research in this field and provide documentation for economic activity in this sector. The aim is to promote the sustainable use of marine and coastal space and its natural resources, based on the principles of social justice, blue economy and ocean equity. The Chair will be directed by Miquel Canals, professor at the Faculty of Earth Sciences, director of the Department of Earth and Ocean Dynamics and founder of the UB's Consolidated Research Group in Marine Geosciences.
The chair was presented on 17 January at a ceremony in the Aula Magna of the Historical Building, with the participation of the vice-rector for Entrepreneurship, Innovation and Transfer, Mercè Segarra; Professor Miquel Canals; the dean of the Faculty of Earth Sciences, Albert Soler, and Albert Valcárcel, manager of Tecnoambiente.
At the presentation ceremony, the vice-rector Mercè Segarra recalled the value of the chairs as elements that allow knowledge to be projected to society as a whole. "Sustainability, degrowth and how to evolve in a context of sustainability are highly topical issues", she noted. "We still have a lot of work to do in the field of research to be able to use natural resources more responsibly. Hardly anyone is talking about the resources of the blue economy. That is why now is the time to do so”.
Albert Soler recalled that "the oceans regulate the climate, provide food and resources, they are a source of biodiversity and play a key role in the prosperity and development of society". “The social context of ecological, climate and energy crisis —he warned— is accelerating the rethinking of political and economic strategies around the world, and the need for reviews that will lead us to formulate a transformation towards a much more sustainable society”. In this sense, the dean affirmed that this new chair is an excellent opportunity for collaboration between the University of Barcelona and society: "It will certainly allow the knowledge of the University to be conveyed to society on issues as relevant as the protection and conservation of marine and coastal ecosystems, the promotion of sustainable economic activities and the responsible use of marine resources".
For his part, Professor Miquel Canals commented that "the blue economy includes all activities carried out at sea or related to it". He recalled that, from a global perspective, it covers "established sectors, which are those that have traditionally contributed to the blue economy; emerging sectors, for which the availability of reliable data is still incomplete; and innovative sectors, which provide new investment opportunities and have a high potential for the future development of coastal communities". The UB Chair Blue and Sustainable Economy is created in the context of "this highly diversified ‘ecosystem’, with many interdependencies and growing relevance", Canals said.
The blue economy concept seeks to promote sustainable economic development, social inclusion, and the preservation or improvement of people's livings, thus ensuring the environmental sustainability of seas and oceans and coastal areas. In Europe, the traditional blue economy sectors contribute 1.5% of the European Union GDP and provide 4.5 million direct jobs (2.3% of total jobs in this economic area).
According to the most up-to-date data on European sea basins, the Mediterranean basin generates the highest gross value added (GVA): EUR 65.5 billion (i.e. 37% of the EU blue economy GVA). It is also the basin with the highest number of direct jobs (2.06 million workers, i.e. 46% of EU blue economy jobs), in key sectors such as coastal tourism, maritime transport, fisheries and port activities. "However, neither tourism nor fisheries are sustainable in the Mediterranean under the current parameters", warns Miquel Canals.
Albert Valcárcel said: "With the support of this UB Chair on Blue and Sustainable Economy, Tecnoambiente aims to advance our commitment to the sustainable use of marine and coastal space and its resources. Our ambition is to learn more about the marine environment, which today is still the closest thing we have to another world". "The purpose of the company is to contribute to sustainable progress, to accelerate the green transition and to provide solutions to global environmental problems. Moreover, the marine environment has always been at the heart of our activities". "At the intersection of our purpose and our passion, lies the proposal and the birth of this chair, which is framed within the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) of the United Nations", he added.
“The knowledge I am referring to —Valcárcel continued— must be used to better manage and protect the marine space. We also aim to boost the growth of the sectors involved in the blue economy, but decoupling this growth from its environmental impact”. Thus, Valcárcel is confident that "with the contribution of all those who in one way or another participate in research, training and working sessions under the umbrella of this chair, we are much closer to ensuring healthy seas and oceans for future generations", he concluded.
The activities to be promoted by the chair include specialised training, professional internships, access to school ships, learning challenges for students, workshops and university-business meetings, and spaces for debate on the current and future challenges of the sectors involved, among other initiatives.
The challenges of the blue economy in sustainability
The presentation of the UB Chair on Blue and Sustainable Economy included the session "Challenges of the blue economy in sustainability". Among the participants were Anna Majó, director of innovation at Barcelona Activa and head of the Blue Economy at Barcelona City Council, with the paper "Sustainability and blue economy: a municipal commitment"; Mariano Marzo, UB emeritus professor expert on energy resources, with "Energy and sustainability: the relevance of the ocean"; Sergi Ametller, director of offshore wind energy at Sener ("Challenges in sustainability of offshore wind energy in Catalonia"); Emma Cobos, director of innovation at the Port of Barcelona ("Challenges in sustainability: The commitment of the Port of Barcelona"); Antoni Munné, head of the Water Quality and Control Department of the Catalan Water Agency ("Challenges and uncertainties in achieving good status in coastal bodies of water"); Sergi Tudela, director-general of Maritime Policy and Sustainable Fisheries of the Government of Catalonia ("The Maritime Agenda of Catalonia as a framework for the development of an integrated maritime policy"); Lourdes Reig, director of the Maritime Network of Catalonia ("Research and innovation, synergies and sustainability in the blue economy"), and Laura Prats, head of Institutional & Transactional Sustainable Finance CIB&IB ("Green sustainable financing aimed at the blue economy").