What will ocean-based industries and the Blue Economy look like in 2050?

Guest Contributor
April 6, 2022

Throughout history, people have turned to the ocean for food, energy, and transport.

The ocean is crucial for local jobs and the global economy. It also holds many of the solutions needed to transform our energy and food systems to more sustainable ones.

We see significant investments being made in both offshore wind and marine aquaculture. Emerging areas like seabed minerals and promising products from marine genetic resources are also gaining attention.

While the opportunities are many, the ocean and its finely balanced ecosystems are under threat from over exploitation of natural resources, pollution, waste and climate change.

The ocean is our life support system and is vital for human and planetary health. For sustainable industry trajectories in the Blue Economy, we must safeguard the health of the ocean and carefully manage its assets.

To be able to do this, we rely on robust scientific knowledge, reliable data and on greater understanding of the ocean system and potential impacts of ocean-related activities.

At DNV, we’re working to help tackle some of the global transformations needed for energy and food, and for almost 160 years we’ve worked closely with ocean-related industries. To provide further insight and transparency to the Blue Economy, we’ve developed a model that takes a systemic and balanced view of key ocean-based industries between now and mid-century.

Our “Ocean’s Future to 2050” presents our best estimate, not scenarios, and may not necessarily reflect the future we want. We try to provide an unbiased view of both opportunities and challenges in the ocean economy, based on key supply-demand relationships and interactions between ocean industries.

Overall, we see three main trends shaping the Blue Economy to 2050:

  • A regional shift with Asia becoming a dominant force in the Blue Economy as investments are shifting away from oil and gas towards other sectors such as offshore wind and aquaculture. This is also a consequence of socio-economic trends in population growth and living standards that shift the centre of the economy as a whole eastward. Greater China will establish itself as the leading investor in the Blue Economy, accounting for 26 percent of global ocean capex in 2050 — up from 10 percent in 2018.
  • A more diverse Blue Economy which reflects all of the major industry transformations. This includes the energy transition with a 50-fold scaling of offshore wind capacity from present levels and the growing importance of marine aquaculture as we increase efforts to transform the global food system to a more sustainable one. We also see a tripling of world desalination capacity to meet increasing demands for freshwater in water stressed areas.
  • A race for space with increased demand for ocean area. We forecast more than a nine-fold increase in space requirement globally between our base year of 2018 and our future estimate for 2050. Spatial competition between and within ocean industries will intensify towards 2050. There will be great regional variations in space demand, strongly influenced by the area required for marine aquaculture and the fast-growing offshore wind sector.

Many opportunities for Canada, but more knowledge needed

The Blue Economy is entering a period of sectoral and regional diversification which will give rise to new opportunities with the potential to generate significant benefits for society.

At the same time, ensuring ocean health is fundamental for sustainable development, and a focus on integrated ocean management will be essential to safeguard marine ecosystems and carefully manage conflicting priorities as we move forward. The private sector will play a key role in this.

The increased spatial density and pressure, particularly along the coastlines, will likely trigger new forms of collaboration such as sector-coupling to achieve spatial efficiency, circularity and shared costs and resources. The sustainability front runners will be those industries that can share the same space for mutual benefit, neither inflicting burdens on each other nor harming the environment.

Although this forecast is a global one, these trends will also be important to Canada’s Blue Economy Strategy. With the world’s longest coastline, the opportunities are many for Canada to build a stronger and more sustainable blue economy.

Together with 15 other nations, Canada is a member of the Ocean panel for a Sustainable Ocean Economy. This initiative has launched an ocean action agenda with a shared commitment of developing national ocean plans with an aim to sustainably manage 100 percent of the ocean area under national jurisdiction. Such ocean plans must encompass all marine and coastal areas under national jurisdiction, take an ecosystem-based approach and be underpinned by best available science and knowledge.

However, in many areas, a key challenge is that we still lack the knowledge we need to make sound decisions. I would therefore like to emphasize the importance of supporting the UN Decade of Ocean Science for Sustainable Development to get the science we need for the ocean we want.

The majority of the ocean floor remains unmapped and an estimated one million species have yet to be discovered. To deliver the lasting change that is required, we need to identify the remaining knowledge gaps, generate the data, information and knowledge required, and use this to deploy the best solutions for sustainable development. This will need financing and support from all stakeholders, including the private sector.


Dr. Bente Pretlove, MEng, PhD, is the Program Director for Ocean Space in DNV Group Research and Development. In this role, she manages DNV’s research efforts related to the sustainable development of ocean-based industries. DNV’s corporate headquarters are in Oslo, Norway.

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