Jun 03 2015

Ocean Energy: key legal issues and challenges

Ocean Energy Issue Brief

A new Issue Brief on ocean energy was published today by the Institute for Sustainable Development and International Relations (IDDRI). The paper brought together authors from 9 different institutions from across the world to set out the key legal issues and challenges for the development of ocean energy.

Ocean energy is a novel renewable energy resource being developed as part of the push towards a ‘Blue Economy’. The literature on ocean energy has focused on technical, environmental, and, increasingly, social and political aspects. Legal and regulatory factors have received less attention, despite their importance in supporting this new technology and ensuring its sustainable development.

The paper sets out some key legal challenges for the development of ocean energy technologies, structured around the following core themes of marine governance: (i) international law; (ii) environmental impacts; (iii) rights and ownership; (iv) consenting processes; and (v) management of marine space and resources.


  • Ocean energy is bringing unique challenges to marine governance frameworks, with legal and regulatory issues frequently cited as a major non-technical barrier to development.
  • By requiring exclusive occupation of ocean space, ocean energy is effectively privatising a common good and creating potential for conflict with other rights-holders and existing marine users.
  • Uncertainties regarding the environmental interactions of ocean energy devices must be better accommodated in regulatory processes, based on adaptive and risk-based management strategies.
  • Marine Spatial Planning has rapidly developed as a tool for managing ocean spaces, though it is not yet clear how ocean energy, and other new marine industries, can be integrated into these processes.

The Issue Brief can be downloaded for free from IDDRI’s website.


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