top of page

Marine Governance and the European Green Deal

The planet faces a triple environmental crisis – climate change, pollution, and biodiversity loss. This encompasses marine and coastal areas and includes Europe’s seas. These pressures continue to reach new levels, with global climate change acting as a catalyst that intensifies the impacts on pollution and biodiversity loss, further threatening the planet and all its species [1, 2]. The root cause of this triple crisis is the adverse impacts of human activities both on land and at sea [3]. Consequently, political attention on reversing biodiversity loss, ocean conservation and management efforts has reached a new high [4]. In response to these challenges, there is a need for a new system of governance that not only addresses these pressures but also recognises the ocean as a shared global common [5].

What is governance?

Governance can be understood as the rules of collective decision-making in contexts where multiple actors interact, and where no single formal control system can dictate the terms of their relationships [6]. This definition highlights the complexity and collaborative nature of governance, especially in settings characterized by a diversity of stakeholders and the absence of overarching authority.

.. and in the marine domain?

Marine governance can be defined as the capacity of various stakeholders, including state actors, representatives from maritime industries, and civil society groups such as NGOs and coastal communities, to govern maritime activities and their impacts [7]. Stakeholders can include formally established organisations which are mandated to manage specific resources and conserve ocean species, habitats, and ecosystems. Stakeholders are also those who participate in governance at the global, EU, regional (sea basin), national (Member State) and local levels, as well as across sectors.

Effective marine governance is essential for the successful conservation of ocean ecosystems and sustainable management of human activities which exploit or impact marine resources and ecosystems.

Challenges in marine governance

Challenges facing marine governance are well known [8, 9]:

  • Incoherent and competing governance objectives resulting from the intensity and diversity of ocean interests (economic, social, environmental etc.) that create inconsistent obligations between regulatory processes

  • Jurisdictional complexity arising from the multi-layered governance of marine spaces and involving multiple countries and regions, each with its own governance and legal framework

  • Absent or insufficient coordination mechanisms to boost collaboration among organisations and stakeholders

  • Low stakeholder awareness or capacity, which reduces the ability of actors to effectively engage in governance

  • Missing or insufficient mechanisms to foster knowledge-based decision making, such as through effective science-society-policy interface

European Green Deal

EGD emerged in 2019 with the aim to "transform the EU into a modern, resource-efficient and competitive economy" [10]. EGD establishes the EU’s long-term vision towards 2050 to ensure zero net emissions of greenhouse gases by 2050, economic growth is decoupled from resource use, and no person or place is left behind. EGD is therefore implemented in response to the triple planetary crisis. However, its ambitious vision requires that EU governance is considered from a new perspective – one that merges previously established and stand-alone policy domains and governance frameworks. This includes the marine realm and the associated policies. This integration process encompasses various marine regime complexes, along with the diverse policies that govern them, highlighting the need for a cohesive strategy that aligns marine conservation and management efforts with the broader EGD objectives.

Regime complexes: marine transport, life, energy, litter

Within the marine realm, the PERMAGOV project focuses on four ‘regime complexes’, namely marine transport, life, energy, and litter. Together, they provide the framework by which to explore the interplay between EU policies and marine governance in the EGD context. Each of these regime complexes includes a variety of policies ranging from the global to local level. The diverse array of policies forms an interconnected web of targets, measures, instruments, and mechanisms which aim to steer activities within these regime complexes towards the EGD vision. In addition, some policies might be considered cross-cutting in that the instruments they establish or the goals they seek to achieve are relevant to multiple regime complexes. It is therefore important to understand these policies both as single initiatives within a regime complex but also within the broader context of the EGD and governance frameworks within which they interact.

Policy instruments in the governance framework

At the EU level, different legal instruments are available and contribute to the creation, coordination, and implementation of policies, as well as provision of guidance to Member States. These instruments can be categorised into binding and non-binding. Binding instruments include directives, regulations and decisions essential for establishing rules and obligations within the EU and its Member States. Non-binding instruments, on the other hand, such as opinions, guidelines or strategies, offer a broad framework for action and future development. In the context of the EGD and the four PERMAGOV regime complexes, a broad variety of binding and non-binding instruments interact to form the backbone of the policy and governance framework by which the vision of the EGD is to be achieved.

The broader context

It is important to acknowledge that EU's efforts to realise EGD objectives are not isolated but rather interdependent with regional sea conventions and other policy making institutions [11]. Regional sea conventions, for instance, contribute to adapting EU law standards to local needs and conditions while international instruments like the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) provide a legal framework that complements EU efforts in marine governance. This interaction creates a dynamic framework where EU directives and regional sea agreements reinforce each other, enhancing the obligation of EU Member States in areas such as the regulation of offshore energy production activities [12].


[1] IPBES. (2019). Global assessment report on biodiversity and ecosystem services of the Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services. E. S. Brondizio, J. Settele, S. Díaz, and H. T. Ngo (editors). IPBES secretariat, Bonn, Germany. 1148 pages.

[2] IPCC. (2019). Climate Change and Land: an IPCC special report on climate change, desertification, land degradation, sustainable land management, food security, and greenhouse gas fluxes in terrestrial ecosystems. P.R. Shukla, J. Skea, E. Calvo Buendia, V. Masson-Delmotte, H.-O. Pörtner, D. C. Roberts, P. Zhai, R. Slade, S. Connors, R. van Diemen, M. Ferrat, E. Haughey, S. Luz, S. Neogi, M. Pathak, J. Petzold, J. Portugal Pereira, P. Vyas, E. Huntley, K. Kissick, M. Belkacemi, J. Malley, (eds.)].

[3] UNEP. (2021). Making peace with nature: A scientific blueprint to tackle the climate, biodiversity and pollution emergencies.

[4] Blythe, J. L., Armitage, D., Bennett, N. J., Silver, J. J., & Song, A. M. (2021). The politics of ocean governance transformations. Frontiers in Marine Science, 8, 634718.

[5] Rudolph, T. B., Ruckelshaus, M., Swilling, M., Allison, E. H., Österblom, H., Gelcich, S., & Mbatha, P. (2020). A transition to sustainable ocean governance. Nat Commun 11: 1–14.

[6] Chhotray, V. & Stoker, G. (2009). Governance theory and practice. A cross-disciplinary approach. Palgrave Macmillan, Hampshire.

[7] Van Tatenhove, J. P. M. (2013). How to turn the tide: developing legitimate marine governance arrangements at the level of the regional seas. Ocean Coast. Manag. 71:296–304.

[8] Ryabinin, V., Barbière, J., Haugan, P., Kullenberg, G., Smith, N., McLean, C., ... & Rigaud, J. (2019). The UN decade of ocean science for sustainable development. Frontiers in Marine Science, 6, 470.

[9] Berkowitz, H., Crowder, L. B., & Brooks, C. M. (2020). Organizational perspectives on sustainable ocean governance: A multi-stakeholder, meta-organization model of collective action. Marine Policy, 118, 104026.

[10] European Commission. (2019). Regulation (EU) 2021/1119 establishing the framework for achieving climate neutrality and amending Regulations (EC) No 401/2009 and (EU) 2018/1999 (‘European Climate Law’). Retrieved from:

[11] European Parliament. (2022). EU agenda for international ocean governance. Briefing. Retrieved from:

[12] Giannopoulos, N. (2022). The interplay between EU Law and Regional Sea Conventions: Shaping Environmental Protection in Relation to Offshore Energy Production Across Europe?. European Energy and Environmental Law Review, 31(1).

22 views0 comments


PERMAGOV has received funding from the European Union's Horizon Europe research and innovation programme HORIZON-CL6-2022-GOVERNANCE-01-03 under grant agreement No 101086297, and by UK Research and Innovation under the UK government’s Horizon Europe funding guarantee grant numbers 10045993, 10062097, 101086297.

  • X
  • LinkedIn
bottom of page