Heroes of Environmental Diplomacy: Profiles in Courage 

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By Felix Dodds, Adjunct Professor in Environmental Sciences and Engineering   at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, Gillings School of Global Public Health; and Chris Tompkins, Independent Consultant, MA Oxon


The Blue Economy – the sustainable use of oceans along with their coastal and estuarine hinterlands which embrace key sectors such as seabed mining, port development, fisheries, energy and tourism – is a new frontier for sustainable investments.  Governments, particularly in emerging economies, working in partnership with the private sector and making full use of the substantial foreign investment flows and loans available, can get ahead of the game and guide coast and ocean development in a sustainable and profitable manner.   

This Blue Economy approach is key to the development of coastal, oceans (and indeed lakes and lake side) areas, putting growth, jobs and the natural resource base on a sustainable footing.    Done well it has the potential to release the estimated 12 trillion dollars of oceans goods and services in a sustainable way.  

To mobilize investment to address the challenges in the Blue Economy this abstract recommends the establishment of a Blue Economy Investment Facility which would be created by Member States, intergovernmental bodies the finance sector and other relevant stakeholders. The Facility which would develop a pipeline of bankable projects that catalyze sustainable investment requiring close public-private cooperation. This cooperation would utilize the UNECE Guiding Principles on People-First Public-Private Partnerships (PPPs) for the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (UN SDGs) to guide investment and projects. 

In particular the Facility could work with local and national authorities to produce a list of potential investment projects, screen the projects on do-ability, sustainability and financial criteria and focus on those projects that provide an economic return on investment. The Facility could also work with the regional development banks and large investors to replicate in the regions. Similar to other Facilities it could work with project proponents to further define pipeline projects and assess their feasibility.


The Blue Economy – the sustainable use of oceans, their coastal and estuarine hinterlands, and large lakes and associated watercourses – which embraces key sectors such as seabed mining, port development, fisheries, energy, tourism and job creation, – is a new opportunity for sustainable investments.  

Governments, particularly in emerging and developing economies, working in partnership with the private sector and making full use of the substantial foreign and multi-lateral investment flows and loans available, can get ahead of the game and guide such Blue Economic Development in a sustainable and profitable manner.        

This paper identifies how this can be done through the establishment by governments with their stakeholders of a Blue Economy Investment Facility (BEIF) and an associated strategic process.   In this way, through public-private partnerships governments can galvanize investment in joined up projects and associated infrastructure, which delivers on:

  • the UN’s sustainable development goals, through an integrated Blue Economy approach, stimulating business, livelihoods and so underwriting environmental quality,
  • establishes a virtuous circle of industry, businesses and investors making an ongoing contribution to a Blue Economy approach, so providing further opportunities for sustainable investment, and
  • demonstrates the effective, transparent and sustainable application of domestic, multi-lateral and bilateral loans and borrowing, which is of increasing importance to both investors and governments [not least in difficult financial climates, where debt overhangs, yields and budgets are stretched].

It is the case that governments and the private sector are to some extent already investing in Blue Economy approaches.   But these are limited in scope and often do not contribute to an integrated and effective Blue Economy.   This is the time for a more joined up approach which allows a stronger focus and gearing towards investment in a Blue Economy in order to realize ongoing and genuine benefits. 

This paper also argues that investments should be in line with the United Nations-supported Principles for Responsible Investment (PRI) and the UN Economic Commission for Europe’s (UNECE) Guiding Principles on People-first Public Private Partnerships (PPPs) for the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).   Without investment and a process which reassures investors, stakeholders, and indeed governments that the money is being well spent on projects which deliver such benefits then the full potential of the Blue Economy will not be realized.

Part 1: The Business Case for Blue Economy Investment

The time has come for a more robust and sustainable approach to Blue Economy Investment. There are a number of underpinning and linked elements in making this case:    

  1. Risk Management

One is valuing the resources provided by oceans, coasts and lakes effectively.   Robust valuations – and much work has been done on this to now move forward - - of the stream of ecosystem, growth and livelihood benefits, which flow from investing in the Blue Economy. This helps provide fund managers, investors generally, lenders, businesses and indeed governments with a necessary rate of return rationale, and effective risk management to satisfy fiduciary duties to shareholders, donors and other stakeholders.    

  1. Effective Valuations 

At the same time, and because sustainability arguments are more effectively mainstreamed into lending decisions there is greater willingness by the private sector - corporate and institutional – as well as national and multi-lateral sectors and donors - to invest in sustainability over significant periods of time.  It is increasingly the case that private investment recognizes the need for longer time lines in making investment decisions consistent with the requirements of sustainability and profitability.   Sustainability has become a more core concept for many businesses, as more and more, report on their environmental, social and corporate governance (ESG) issues. This is helped by pressure from leading investors on their government to create more supportive frameworks and policies for portfolios to assist longer term development. 

  1. Public Commitment

Indeed, the third element is the importance of public commitment:  this means governments providing the right enabling environment for private investment and wider borrowing flows.  It is particularly important when much investment will be large scale and, to some extent, of the nature of a public good.  This would include major infrastructure, such as improved water quality; sewage management and storm damage control; harbour, tourism and fishing fleet development; and energy production and sustainable mining. 

Sustainable investments in these areas can underpin the economic growth, job creation and wellbeing of local areas and people, with SMEs and others benefitting from tourism, to payments for carbon capture through improved wetlands management, to sustainable fisheries and boat building.   Additional tools such as tax incentives, planning and zoning can assist as well as clear programmes, illustrating for example how investments can achieve development goals.    

Finally, of course, there is the simple reality that the natural resource base cannot go on declining.  There needs to be a clear shift towards investments, which whilst realizing the potential of Blue Economy sectors, likewise recognize that they are valuable and can give good returns, provided such investment contributes to an improved resource base on which the Blue Economy rests. 

Blue Economy Nexus Issues

A sustainable Blue Economy is one promotes economic growth, responsible production and consumption, social inclusion, and the improvement of livelihoods while at the same time ensuring environmental sustainability through a circular economy.  At its core, it refers to the decoupling of socio-economic development through ocean, coastal and water related sectors and activities from environmental and ecosystems degradation.

This is why this proposal for a BEIF can be built around the “Nexus” between relevant goals or targets in order to build coherent sets of Blue Economy integrated policies and action programmes .  The impacts on Blue areas and their use come from many places. This will require an integrated – Nexus - approach to planning, for example, with increasing climate impact variability and increased urbanization around the coasts.    It is critical to helping to ensure Blue Economy investment.

Part II:  Putting it into practice – a strategy and facility for instigating and focusing investment

These underpinning elements - public commitment; effective valuations and robust risk management; addressing inter-linkages and the willingness of investors to pursue sustainability based on the suggested Principles are increasingly being recognized in a number of areas and regions. 

The stage is set to now catalyse the necessary investment (which is clearly available) into a Blue Economy approach, bringing these elements together, brokering the financial arrangements, clarifying and agreeing in partnership what needs to be done by whom and when, and the sort of returns and opportunities on offer.  

One way of achieving this integrative approach is to move quickly towards establishing a Blue Economy Investment Facility and associated strategic process.  This can accelerate and provide a clearer focus as countries re-orientate towards a stronger Blue Economy approach.    

Circumstances vary, of course, from country to country and a Blue Economy Facility/Process will no doubt reflect national and local structures and priorities.    For example, Kenya has a Blue Economy Unit up and running, and it would not be difficult to extend this to a focus on facilitating investment, drawing on national and regional expertise, and securing investment in real time projects linked to Government plans and priorities.   A variation might be the establishment of a formal private enterprise entity, operating with its own expert personnel, under the overall guidance of an agreed authority, such as a Government Department

Whatever the precise approach, the mandate of such a Facility and Process would be to develop and secure ‘blue economy’ investments in support of the country led development objectives and approved programmes.    This would also enable a genuine Blue Proofing (blue impact assessments, including benefits, as it were) of projects and initiatives to be undertaken, including the effective application of investment principles.     Current environmental impact assessments tend to reflect the particular and limited approach of a project.  A more systematic and joined up approach is needed, not least where oceans, coats and freshwater areas are concerned.    

The following describes some key steps which governments might take with stakeholders in re-orientating towards a Blue Economy approach and the establishment of a Blue Economy Investment Facility.  Some countries will have already taken some of these steps, and of course some steps are similar to normal business practice.  But to underline the issue, a more coordinated, focused approach allows for more effective delivery of projects, their transparency, improved livelihoods, and environmental quality.     

Stages and steps in a Blue Economy Investment Process  

A first stage, would focus on the initial entry points, making the case for a Blue Economy – how it fits in with helping to deliver the SDGs - and identifying and mapping investment partners along with broader stakeholder engagement, such as:   

  • developing a Blue Economy Prosperity Road Map and Strategy, showing the added value chain of key marine and coastal sectors to GDP growth and jobs how the Blue Economy can deliver on key country led processes. establishing, through expert and stakeholder driven pre-feasibility and associated assessments, the agreed basis for investment needs and priorities in order to promote a Blue Economy,
  • agreeing with stakeholders a series of Investment Plans for different sectors, linked to an overall umbrella Blue Economy Investment plan for a region, which identify specific investment opportunities, and levels of investment needed,
  • identifying potential private sector investors and investment flows, and mapping investment partners with investment opportunities.


A second stage would focus on delivery, notably:

  • shaping and identifying particular projects for investment purposes, including through partnership meetings between investors and other stakeholders,
  • fully Blue Proofing projects to ensure genuine sustainability,
  • enabling the alignment and partnership process ‘agreements’ to be turned into a commercial process, with tenders, proposed rates of return etc, and actual projects.

Guidance for Investment

The Sustainable Development Goals and in this case the Blue Economy needs to be underpinned by a set of Principles and Guidelines to give investors and stakeholders generally confidence and reassurance.

In recent years the UN has worked with others to develop guidance to ensure that investment is more aligned with sustainable development. The Principles for Responsible Investment (PRI) were developed by an international group of institutional investors reflecting the increasing relevance of ESG issues to investment practices. The process was convened by the UN Secretary-General and are embodied in six key Principles:

1: We will incorporate ESG issues into investment analysis and decision-making processes; 2: We will be active owners and incorporate ESG issues into our ownership policies and practices; 3: We will seek appropriate disclosure on ESG issues by the entities in which we invest;4: We will promote acceptance and implementation of the Principles within the investment industry.5: We will work together to enhance our effectiveness in implementing the Principles.6: We will each report on our activities and progress towards implementing the Principles.


[“In signing the Principles, we as investors publicly commit to adopt and implement them, where consistent with our fiduciary responsibilities. We also commit to evaluate the effectiveness and improve the content of the Principles over time. We believe this will improve our ability to meet commitments to beneficiaries as well as better align our investment activities with the broader interests of society]. (PRI, 2006)

A Blue Economy investment process should integrate these Principles in order to help stimulate responsible and sustainable investment flows and their delivery.

The Addis Ababa Action Agenda has also outlined the need for Principles for Public Private Partnerships.  

[The UN Commission for Europe (UNECE) has put together “Guiding Principles on People-first Public Private Partnerships (PPPs) for the UN Sustainable Development Goals.” These People-first Principles can also be considered with their accompanying strategy to any PPPs for the Blue Economy. The Principles should guide the actions of governments in order to implement `people-first PPPs:

  1. Putting People first: Actions not words,
  2. Taking PPP Capacity building seriously and leaving no one behind,
  3. A Policy framework that promotes PPPs in support of the UN SDGs,
  4. A Legal framework that facilitates people-first PPPs,
  5. Sharing project risks as one,
  6. Open competition in selecting partners,
  7. Ensuring that PPP enhances the environment not at the expense of it. (UNECE, 2018)

As we write this paper a number of investors and NGOs have been developing a set of Blue Economy Finance Principles which also should as we move forward guide the work on the blue economy. These 14 Principles launched in Bali at the UNEP Global Programme for Land Based Forms of Pollution to the Marine Environment highlighter the following: 1. Protective, 2. Compliant, 3. Risk aware, 4. Systemic, 5. Inclusive, 6. Cooperative, 7. Transparent, 8. Purposeful, 9. Impactful, 10. Precautionary, 11. Diversified, 12. Solution Driven, 13. Partnering and 14 Science-led (EC, 2018).  Together these three sets of Principles should guide national investment strategies for the Blue Economy.


A Blue Economy Investment Facility and associated process would allow governments to accelerate, focus and strengthen moves towards a genuine Blue Economy approach.    They would be able to utilize their and private sector expertise and orientate, develop, and tender projects and initiatives which deliver improved livelihoods, improved environmental quality, and improved spending of investment flows.      Appropriate investment principles, recognized by the international community of donors, lenders and other investors can help consolidate the process and drive it forward in a sustainable manner.


European Commission, WWF, The Princes Charities International Sustainability Unit, European Investment Bank (2018) Declaration of the Sustainable Blue Economy Finance Principles, Brussels, EC. Available online at:

Principles for Responsible Investment (2006) What are the six Principles of Responsible Investment, London, PRI. Available online at:

United Nations Economic Commission for Europe (2018) Guiding Principles on People-first Public Private Partnerships (PPPs) for the UN Sustainable Development Goals, Geneva, UNECE. Available online at:

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