Blue Opportunities from the Future: looking across the land-coast-sea divide to explore long-term options for sustainable growth
‘Blue Futures’ is a collaborative project being led by the University of East Anglia in partnership with the New Anglia Local Enterprise Partnership, the Environment Agency, Orbis Energy, the RSPB, Coastal Partnership East, Cefas and Blue Ltd., and funded by a Natural Environment Research Council Innovation grant. The work unites academics, commercial organisations, practitioners and decision makers to explore potential future opportunities for New Anglia’s ‘blue’ economy.
Dr Trevor Tolhurst, UEA
Dr Martin Johnson, UEA/Cefas
Dr Sophie Day, UEA
Dr Irene Lorenzoni, UEA
Blue Ltd. (Katherine Kennedy and associates including Lisa Johnson and Johanna Forster)
Keith Moore (Environment Agency)
Bill Parker (Coastal Partnership East)
Paul Mackie (Coastal Partnership East)
Iain Dunnett (New Anglia Local Enterprise Partnership)
Rob Young (North Norfolk District Council)
Adrian Southern (RSPB)
Johnathan Reynolds (OrbisEnergy)
Activities to date
The Blue Futures project combines a suite of innovative methods, specifically developed to help the team and our valued participants open our minds to potential long-term areas of sustainable ‘blue’ economic opportunity, linking terrestrial, coastal and off-shore activity:
- Hind and fore-casting: Looking 100 years back to learn how events and planned activities have influenced the present. Looking 100 years forward to anticipate potential future change and the legacy of present decisions (2016).
- Scenario development and visioning: opening our minds to a range of possible futures and identifying how we would like the future to look and how this may be achieved (2016).
- Card-sorting exercise: enabling the prioritisation of long-term sustainability targets and pathway opportunities for their delivery (2017-2018) in the context of specific locational transects (spanning land, coast and sea) of distinctive character.
Below: One of a series of scenario ‘cartoons’ developed within the project which collectively demonstrate a range of very different potential futures, and highlight some pitfalls of not planning for the long-term future. Each scenario covers different social, political and environmental system states as they may affect the region, in the context of global change. Alongside scenario descriptions, they aim to facilitate long-term thinking by workshop participants. Cartoon artist: Paul Jennings
Some key findings so far…
- New Anglia is unique, distinctive and has huge value socially, environmentally and economically: We should celebrate this and actively pave the way toward positive sustainability outcomes. New Anglia’s unique selling points in the future will be central in driving a stronger tourist economy and will come from recognising, protecting and nurturing our key assets – natural and habitat assets, renewable energy, regional food, local economic diversity and so on.
- ‘True’ sustainability: There is a need to genuinely embed sustainability into decision making (especially around economic investment) and practice more holistic planning across sectors. This will involve more robust valuation and accounting of environmental and social costs and benefits in economic assessments (recognising the fundamental and underpinning value of natural capital and ecosystem services on all sectors; including moving away from conventional measures of wealth to include health, wellbeing and so on).
- Technology and innovation are fundamentally important and cut across traditional sectors and our aspirations for the future: Identifying regionally relevant key opportunity areas for research and development (e.g. renewable on- and off-shore energy, food security comprising agri-aquaculture and fisheries, engineering and skills development, etc.) and creating enabling mechanisms for the uptake of new technology will encourage innovation and enable the region to be a recognised leader in many aspects.
- Heralding sustainability good practice: investment in test-cases and good practice examples which can be learnt from and promoted is key, e.g. examples of adaptive coastal management in practice, partnerships successfully delivering change, sustainable business initiatives, new models of land management, and more.
- Adapting to change: Adaptive and anticipatory practices will be a key feature of a sustainable future; preparing for and embracing change, and being ready to seize opportunities arising from system shifts.
- Infrastructure is a critical cross-cutting constraint and opportunity: A key issue in visioning a future which more robustly connects on- and off-shore activity, with a view to generating greater economic opportunity in the future. Infrastructure relates to transport, energy systems, natural habitat, communications and more.
Next steps, delivery and project impact
Blue Futures will be delivered in the autumn of 2018, taking into account a pause due to staffing logistics. Between now and then the team will be actively engaging with external organisations (for example, we have already had input into the Government Office for Science’s Foresight Study on the Future of the Sea, and into the review of the Government’s Industrial Strategy via work carried out by the New Economics Foundation) and audiences (we are also actively presenting our research at academic and practitioner conferences in the UK and overseas). In the near-term we plan to provide input to the development of New Anglia’s new economic strategy.
The final outputs of the project will comprise a blue-growth focussed manifesto for the region identifying current and future opportunities and an indication of the short-term decisions needed to achieve long-term positive outcomes. Blue Futures will also generate a ‘toolkit’ of information and methods developed specifically to facilitate similar exercises to be carried out elsewhere. As part of the project, an online research database has been developed, with support from the Norfolk and Suffolk Coastal Network and Coastal Partnership East. Its aim is to signpost regionally relevant research and datasets for practitioners to ensure maximum awareness of activities and studies taking place in the region. Still in development, and transferable in its approach, this platform will form a key part of the toolkit at the end of the project. The database can be accessed at http://db.marineknowledge.org.uk/.
NERC is the funder of this project. We acknowledge the crucial input of our project partners and workshop participants, and are grateful to UEA and the Marine Knowledge Exchange Network for supporting Blue Futures