Offshore wind will play a crucial role in the UK’s efforts to reach net zero, this was a key message at the UN Climate Change Conference COP26 in Glasgow. However, installing this technology at the scale and pace needed to decarbonise our energy systems is no easy task. Policy Officer, Samuel Wrobel, explains how hopeful conversations at COP26 show the beginnings of a green energy revolution. 

Northern gannet, two individuals mutually preening each other – Katie Nethercoat (rspb-images.com)
Northern gannet, two individuals mutually preening each other – Katie Nethercoat (rspb-images.com) 

 

The UK Government has rightly set ambitious targets for offshore wind deployment requiring a four-fold upscaling by 2030. To enable the shift from fossil fuels, this rapid development is set to continue in the early 2030s and beyond. 

Speakers at the COP26’s Offshore Wind and Biodiversity event made it clear that the nature and climate emergencies are indivisible; we cannot save nature without tackling climate change and we cannot reach net zero without a healthy environment – which includes our seas. The UK’s seas provide us with food, green energy, carbon stores and amazing nature which often underpins local economies. The alignment between stakeholders is evidence of the necessity and urgency with which we must adopt this approach. But government action remains the missing piece of the puzzle. The UK Government and devolved administrations need to show precisely how they plan to fill the gap between rhetoric and reality. 

As yet, there is no roadmap for our energy transition. This is resulting in a scramble for sea space, delays to development and nature losses, including our globally important seabirds as well as the habitats which lock away carbon and provide homes for prey species like sandeels. We need government action for a holistic approach to marine spatial planning which takes into account the cumulative impacts from marine activities.  

English Channel horizon line – Samuel Wrobel
English Channel horizon view – Samuel Wrobel 

 

The dual nature and climate emergency needs joint solutions which was emphasised by speakers at the offshore wind COP26 event, including representatives from industry, governmental bodies and conservation organisations. As host of COP26, the UK Government has an opportunity to show world leadership on sustainable climate action. We are calling for an end to poorly planned offshore development which jeopardises both nature and net zero. We need a new approach, one that integrates our renewable deployment and action to revive our seas to ensure a truly green energy revolution. This must include:  

 

  • Marine Spatial planning to direct development to the least sensitive areas: Encourage collaboration between users of the marine environment; and, as for terrestrial development, identify the strategic actions requirements to facilitate long-term sustainable use of our seas.  Although the 2009 Marine and Coastal Act introduced the process of Marine Spatial Planning, we are yet to see delivery of these fundamental components.  
  • Renewed efforts to understand and reduce the impacts of renewables technologies: We need to continue and advance the programme of monitoring offshore windfarms, ideally using standardised data collection methods to aid comparisons, and use that data to better our understanding of impacts. We need to explore innovative technologies, such as floating offshore wind turbines, which could be positioned in deeper, less sensitive areas to reduce impacts.  And we need to consider the role of strategic compensation in making good the losses already caused from offshore wind and marine development. 
  • Government-led action to address the state of our seas: Improving the state of our seabirds is not in the gift of individual developers. We need to approach our seas strategically; recognising the cumulative and individual impacts of each development or activity. Any intervention needs to be targeted to tackle causes of decline rather than plastering over symptoms with short-term solutions.     

 

Our seas and climate cannot wait; as also noted by COP26 event speakers, collaboration from all levels will be vital in tackling these challenges in the necessary timeframe. The RSPB is already working closely with other organisations and we look forward to increased joint efforts and cross-sector collaboration to set us on course for ocean recovery and net zero.  

 

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