Social license to operate in blue economy.


Byline: Nazir Ahmed Shaikh

Over the past decade the blue economy has become a widespread buzz word. Though it refers to the control of the earth's oceans and marine life, however, it has different and conflicting meaning for different people; hence have blurred definitions and applications. The blue economy is an ocean-based economic growth model designed to ensure sustainable use of the marine environment.

It includes 'traditional' offshore activities (e.g. oil and gas development, shipping, fisheries) and emerging industries such as deep sea mining and renewable energy. The social acceptability of ocean based industries, sometimes known as 'Social License to Operate' (SLO), will be important to securing the future potential of a blue economy. Whilst maintaining a SLO is a challenge that is experienced differentially across various sectors, the loss of SLO in one sector may impact the level of societal trust in the broader concept to blue economy.

The term blue economy first emerged at the 2012 United Nations Convention on Sustainable Development (UNCSD), or Rio+20 Conference. The concept was promoted at the conference as the 'marine dimension of the broader green economy', which was defined as an economy "that results in improved human well-being and social equity, while significantly reducing environmental risks and ecological scarcities".

The blue economy reflects the fact that over 70% of the earth's surface is water, and that good ocean health is of central importance for global sustainability and climate adaptation. It also recognizes that the oceans are a vital repository and supporter of global biological diversity, a critical source of food through fisheries and aquaculture and a fundamental contributor to the global economy through sea-borne trade and other uses. This focus on sustainability and ocean health distinguishes the blue economy from the broader' ocean economy'. The ocean economy also sometimes called the marine economy.

A SLO typically focuses on the ongoing acceptance and approval of industrial activities by stakeholders and argues for the relevance of building a relationship and dialogue between companies and these stakeholders (as opposed to the government).

A number of scholars engaged in research into SLO have theorized a spectrum of SLO, ranging from full acceptance (or identification) through to complete rejection, as detailed below:

Withheld/withdrawn: industrial activities are in danger of being denied...

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