Australia and Israel have a common blue economy future
offshore wind turbine

Written by

Anthony Bergin and Gedaliah Afterman

Around the world, sustainable ocean economic activity, or the blue economy, is swelling. This growth is driven by dwindling land resources, technological advancements, and the urgent need to respond to climate change.

The blue economy extends beyond traditional sectors such as fishing, shipbuilding, and port infrastructure. It encompasses emerging industries like renewable energy production (offshore wind and wave power), maritime biotechnology, subsea mining, autonomous shipping, underwater drones, marine-derived pharmaceuticals, and offshore aquaculture. This is particularly promising in providing solutions to growing food security concerns in Asia, the Middle East, and beyond.

Though far apart geographically, Israel and Australia are poised to have an outsized role in advancing the blue economy. Both countries’ strategic locations, technological prowess, and shared interests make them ideal partners. The upcoming COP 28 conference, to be held in Dubai in November, offers an important platform for initiating progress on this innovative agenda.

With 204 kilometres of coastline along the Mediterranean and Red Seas, Israel’s territorial waters dwarf the country’s land area. Last year, the Israeli government earmarked blue-technology as a priority for research and development. The national centre for the blue economy in the port city of Haifa is at the forefront of ocean technological innovation and entrepreneurship. Israel’s blue-tech start-ups are diverse, ranging from AI-based underwater vision enhancement to marine-friendly concrete. 

Australia’s blue economy is also riding a wave of growth. Data from the Australian Institute of Marine Science notes that marine activity contributed $118.5 billion in output in 2020-21 and supported 462,000 full-time jobs, underscoring the blue economy’s vital role in the national economy.  Australia’s industry-driven Blue Economy Cooperative Research Centre focuses on wind power and offshore aquaculture, with a multitude of companies engaged in blue-tech areas.

Collaboration between Australia and Israel could be multifaceted. As Australia is projected to see decreased rainfall across the southern regions by the 2030s, desalination will play an increasingly crucial role in securing fresh water. Israel’s expertise in desalination may prove invaluable. On pollution prevention, Australia and Israel can exchange information on opportunities within their offshore oil and gas industries, as well as strategies for marine plastic pollution abatement.

Conservation offers common ground. The two nations can share best practices around marine spatial planning to manage offshore multiple-use conflicts. Israeli companies may wish to support work in Australia’s blue economy research centre, focusing on offshore aquaculture and renewable energy, particularly wind power. The increasing interest in Australian offshore wind farms, with over two dozen applications lodged with the National Offshore Petroleum Titles Administrator, highlights this opportunity. Both countries could share security assessments on offshore energy facilities looking at risks from cyber-crime, terrorism, and state hostilities.

The concept of wind farms connected to “energy islands” up to 100km out at sea is another area worth exploring. Centralizing the transmission of energy produced by wind farms is considered the future in Europe, and both Australia and Israel could lead the way in adopting this innovative approach.

For both Australia and Israel blue economy connects to their regional positions, interests, and objectives.Following the Abraham Accords, Israel has been strengthening its relations with another active middle power, the United Arab Emirates.  In the last year the UAE has signed comprehensive bilateral economic partnership agreements with India, Israel, and Indonesia. It’s negotiating similar agreements with at least another six countries. 

Setting a blue economy agenda as a basis for a block of middle powers on their own or in conjunction with larger powers is likely to accelerate such cooperation agreements. A blue economy agenda could foster Middle East-Indo-Pacific cooperation to address climate change, for instance by exploiting the potential of microalgae for carbon sequestration that has proven to be much more effective than trees. 

It could do the same for food security where certain types of seaweed and microalgae have protein yields comparable to soybean, without pressuring freshwater resources. And a blue economy agenda could promote cooperation in addressing future energy needs where oil and gas reserve estimates increase because of new excavation techniques in ocean depths and where the oceans provide substantial potential for renewable energy.

Indeed, much opportunity exists for Israel and Australia together with key partners such as the UAE, Japan, and Singapore to support the blue economy from the Pacific Islands to the Indian Ocean. The evolving blue economy landscape presents opportunities for the partners to learn from each other, develop new ideas and to implement them jointly.

For example, a proposed subsea cable connecting Israel to Saudi Arabia, the Gulf and Europe, serves as a symbol of both the profound changes and the new opportunities emerging in the region especially in the nexus between technology and connectivity.  By sharing its knowhow to ensure cable resilience Australia can be part of this growing trend.

With COP 28 being held in Dubai in late November under the action-focused leadership of the UAE, a golden opportunity is emerging to not only put these ideas on the global stage but also to push them from vision to reality.

The oceans can be an arena for intense competition and even military tension, or for remarkable cooperation. Israel, Australia, and like-minded countries in the Indo-Pacific and the Middle East are uniquely positioned to reap the rewards of partnerships in the blue economy while avoiding the pitfalls of intensifying geopolitical rivalries.

This article was first published in The Australian.

Anthony Bergin is a senior fellow at Strategic Analysis Australia. Gedaliah Afterman is head of the Asia policy program, Abba Eban Institute for Diplomacy and Foreign Relations, Reichman University, Israel.