Investing in Barcelona’s blue economy

Barcelona has a long history of successfully leveraging events to develop sectoral strengths. As the newly confirmed hosts of the America’s Cup, we talked to Pau Solanilla, Commissioner for City Promotion for Barcelona City Council, to discover how the event forms part of their blue economy proposition and what they’ve learned in the process.

How can cities take a role in leading the response to global challenges such as climate change?

The various systemic shocks of recent years, and especially climate change, have resulted in a disfigured world. This is why it is necessary to design new strategies and alliances to reconfigure public policies in the face of the double challenge we are facing: digital transformation and the climate emergency. Thus, the challenge is how to make cities competitive, sustainable and equitable territories.

Climate change must be addressed from many points of view and in all spheres of public administration: national, regional and local. In Barcelona, we are designing the future of our city based on a new agenda: the Barcelona Green Deal. We are committed to continue promoting and leading public and private projects to work on more efficient and sustainable models, such promoting energy efficient buildings; low carbon public transport and private mobility; and encouraging cycling and walking. The Barcelona Sustainable Energy Mechanism (MES Barcelona), for example, is a tool to support and accelerate the city’s energy transition alongside private investors. The initiative is intended to encourage investment in solar panelling and energy renewal in the city. Barcelona City Council’s new energy-transformation plan lets you install photovoltaic panels on your building using a funded solution with guaranteed materials. Those funding the photovoltaic panel will sell electricity to the building’s owners and, once the electricity-sales contract ends, the panel will then belong to the building’s owners at zero cost.

Barcelona has done a great deal of work around its Green Deal brand strategy – can you share some information around this?

Green Deal strategy was launched 2021, positioning Barcelona as an international benchmark for a competitive, sustainable and fair economy. Its aspirations are to boost Barcelona as an international, sustainable city with a high quality of life with responsible mobility solutions and green jobs.

One of the main aspects of a successful City Branding Strategy is the commitment to raise and attract new talent. Talent is the critical factor for innovation and also for attracting new investments and reputation. We are witnessing a paradigm shift in which companies are now relocating or investing where the international talent is; it’s not so much that the talent goes to where the companies are anymore. Cities have to be pleasant and healthy places to live and work to attract talented individuals. The best talent does not want to live and work in just any city, but in those that guarantee functional and emotional benefits and that is prominent in the new global value chains. And Barcelona is the right place for all of that  the Green Deal Strategy is just one demonstration of this.

You’ve been confirmed as the hosts of the 37th America’s Cup in 2024. What would be your advice for other cities who are planning to bid for major sporting events?

Over recent decades, Barcelona has attracted many international sports events  as we are able to develop them in a public-private partnership. In the case of the America’s Cup, the preliminary contacts were made through Barcelona & Partners, the public-private collaboration platform that we launched to explore the attraction of opportunities for the city. Although initially we were cautious because we did not want to raise false expectations, given the complex and demanding technical and financial requirements, a series of circumstances arose that generated a virtuous circle that allowed us to move forward quickly with the mutual trust necessary to negotiate a successfully candidacy.

In a bid to host a major international event, money is a variable, but there are many others that also come into play. We were aware that we were not going to compete based on price; instead our objective was to present an application with the best value offer. Our proposal was technically the best, both from the point of view of the regatta field, as well as the location and organization of the team bases and the areas of interaction with the spectators, and the accessibility and proximity to the city.

Collaboration is key in delivering an event such as this – and in delivering a longer-term legacy after the event. How can cities work more effectively with their partners to deliver their vision for the future?

The triumph of Barcelona’s candidacy is a collective success for the city. The Barcelona candidacy has had the support of all public institutions, as well as the private sector and civil society. Barcelona Global, a private association made up of more than 220 of the main companies, also played a leading role and launched a fundraising campaign from the private sector.

A major event such as the America’s Cup should not only be measured by the economic impact studies and job creation - although that is indeed a positive. It can also act as a catalyst for many other initiatives and generate interesting and productive synergies with other economic sectors of the city, such as industry or technology. For us, itis very important that we leave a legacy beyond the event itself, as we achieved with some other international successful events such the Mobile World Congress or around Smart City Expo World Congress. Collaboration with the city stakeholders is key to achieving this.


Large-scale events such as this have a huge potential for tourism, but how are you aiming to leverage the event to develop skills and drive investment as well?


The city has always been closely linked to the sea. Currently in Barcelona, the blue economy sector employs 15,806 workers and generates 3,826 million euros in annual turnover, which represents 4.3% of GDP and 1.4% of employment in the city. We have also recently announced that Barcelona will be the world headquarters of the World Ocean Council, the global organization that brings together more than 300 leading companies committed to "corporate ocean responsibility". We like to host international events that are lined up and foster the vision, values and objectives of the city.

It’s also a big part of your strategy to develop a strong blue economy proposition. What’s the key to building a strong sectoral strategy around an event?

The government wants to boost the blue economy to ensure that we’re preserving the maritime ecosystem, so that it continues to be an economic engine of the city. This is both in maintaining the more classic sectors (transport, port logistics, nautical, fishing, industry, science, blue tourism...), as well as encouraging new sectors linked to the sea (biotechnology, maritime energy...), in order to make a transition towards a more sustainable model which is aligned with the objectives of the 2030 Agenda.

The creation of a blue economy hub in the new Port Olimpic, oriented towards companies and initiatives of within this area, is a part of this strategy. An important commitment is also made to education and research, with the creation of the Nautical Training and Technology Node. This new policy provides for the creation of an innovation environment for emerging sectors, called InnovaBlue, a program in collaboration with the Port of Barcelona, Universities, Marina Barcelona 92 and the BCN Nautical Cluster, among others, to prepare the European Union's KIC candidacy in this area in 2025. Finally, the Blue Economy Observatory will be responsible for evaluating and monitoring the economic, social and environmental impact with solid data.

We strongly believe that the key is always to involve the maximum number of public and private agents in the sector to expand its scope and magnitude both locally and internationally.

Pau Solanilla Franco will be joining us at City Nation Place Global to explore their sectoral approach to blue economy development. Find out more here.

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