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2016:  JAN
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Public-Private Partnerships Advance Industry, Research

Jim Hanlon,
CEO,
Institute for Ocean Research Enterprise


My organization, the Institute for Ocean Research Enterprise (IORE), is typical of a growing number of organizations that are neither fully public nor private. They are different from the more traditional, single-issue NGOs. IORE and similar organizations worldwide play the role of connecting the best aspects of public sector research and policy development with the strengths of independent academic research and the market rigor of the private sector. They represent a new form of public-private partnerships (PPPs) and play an important role in the growth of future maritime industries and the future health of our ocean and world.

Traditionally, PPPs provide capital and specialized expertise to public sector infrastructure projects. The new form of PPPs creates opportunities for both the public and private sectors to gain significantly. The role of these new PPPs has less to do with the movement of capital and more to do with the movement of ideas and information.

The ocean remains a frontier in all senses of the word—it is at the edge of human settlement and filled with opportunities for developing new business ideas. Like frontiers of the past, it is also rife with unknowns, risks and uncertainties. Ocean-based business, like all business, has as its inputs natural resources, human talent and money. But unlike land-based business, the natural environment that sustains ocean business transcends national boundaries and is fluid, changing dramatically over time and space. Fish don’t carry passports or respect national boundaries. The movement of storms and ocean currents is multinational. An environmental accident in one jurisdiction can have profound impact beyond it.

And because the ocean is so vast, harsh and unpredictable, it remains a challenging place to do business. In spite of these challenges, the future of our growing global economy and our civilization will be increasingly dependent on the ocean. The extraction of food, minerals and energy; the efficient, safe transportation of goods; and the absorption of carbon emissions are all putting significant stress on the ocean.

According to the UN, the global ocean economy is currently valued at about $3 billion, and as the world’s population continues to grow and urbanize, it’s inevitable that we will depend more on our ocean. We’re faced with more and varying use of the ocean, while barely beginning to understand how the ocean itself works to sustain our globe. Ocean industry remains at risk of unpredicted, rapid ocean change that could fundamentally alter businesses. Current ocean science model outputs are generally too vague and long term, too low in spatial and temporal resolution, and too uncertain to be of direct planning benefit to business.

This all speaks to the need for more and better ocean science—more ocean observation, better ocean modeling and better ocean data products that can provide guidance to ocean businesses. The private sector ocean economy understands the benefits of better ocean science. However, no one company by itself can justify the large long-term ocean science investment required to develop a comprehensive model of how the ocean truly works. And, frankly, no one has seen the business value in much of the public and academic ocean science conducted so far. This is the challenge: to develop true, large-scale ocean science collaborations that will combine the best of government, academic and business capabilities to produce a more informed use of the ocean. Ocean science is simply too expensive, too multijurisdictional and too multidisciplinary to expect that governments or universities will successfully develop the required science outcomes on their own.

Only a true collaboration among governments, academics and ocean business will provide the capital, expertise and use-driven initiative to accomplish this important task. The role of PPPs is to build these collaborative global research programs to the advantage of all.

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