(C) Andy Hay (rspb-images.com)
Today, the global wind day, Senior Policy Officer Helen Quayle and Policy Officer Samuel Wrobel explain why the UK’s effort for restoring our seas must match our ambition for offshore wind.
We are at a crossroads: we urgently need more offshore wind and we also need to protect our seas, our ally in the fight against climate change and home to our wonderful seabirds.
Securing a renewable future
The UK is a world leader in offshore wind development, and rightly has set targets to expanding this proven, low-cost renewable technology. More offshore wind is vital to enable the shift from fossil fuels, secure domestic energy supplies and help tackle the cost of living.
To achieve all of this, we’re going to need a lot of wind turbines, in fact we’re going to need to build one turbine, three times the height of Big Ben, every weekday, for the next 30 years.
Our seas might look like endless expanse of water, but they are already busy. Busy with development (not just offshore wind which is a relatively new player), fisheries and other human activity. As yet these activities are not properly managed and a legacy of unaddressed impacts is contributing to the poor state of our seas and the downward spiral of our seabirds like our puffins and kittiwakes.
Poor planning threatens nature and net zero
The expansion of offshore wind on the scale required is unprecedented. It could result in the complete industrialisation of our seas if we’re not careful. And it warrants a new approach – we simply cannot deliver this much infrastructure – and ensure the grid connections, investment and supply chains – without updating a planning system developed when this was a new technology. At present the implications of poor planning and a disjointed approach with other marine users are an increasing barrier to deployment. Failure to transform how we deploy offshore wind threatens both nature and net zero.
We need big changes and we need them now; climate and nature cannot wait.
Action for nature and climate
Healthy seas are our ally in the fight against climate change helping to lock away carbon and absorbing the heat from enhanced greenhouse effect. We also rely on our seas for food, oxygen, livelihoods and so much more.
While the link between nature loss and climate change is now well accepted, our response is not joined up. To successfully tackle climate change, we must restore nature and vice versa.
Accelerating offshore wind and protecting nature
As the UK develops new energy strategies and legislation accelerates offshore wind, we must not forget nature.
Everything we know about nature tells us that it needs stronger and better implemented protection. There are calls for increasing the speed at which offshore wind is deployed, which includes reducing consenting time. This is understandable; however, nature is not the barrier, poor and outdated planning systems are. We can and must streamline consenting and accelerate deployment with seabirds and other wildlife in mind.
Avoiding and reducing harm on nature with proper planning and strategic approaches that benefit industry and sealife is crucial. Strategic monitoring, cumulative impact assessment and industry standards to reduce harm must be part of the implementation of the British Energy Security Strategy and built into the Energy Security Bill.
A plan for our offshore energy revolution
Scotland already has a Sectoral Marine Plan for Offshore Wind. In Wales momentum is growing which recognises the need for a Spatial and Strategic Development Plan to facilitate sustainable offshore wind and tidal technology. The marine planning system in England has so far failed to identify areas for offshore wind development and arguably is not fit for the purpose of accelerating deployment or tackling the scramble for sea space between this sector and fisheries. We recommend an England level marine plan for offshore wind to facilitate the delivery of 2030 deployment targets and as a stepping-stone to a full reform of marine planning to take us to net zero. Marine planning should also be seen as vital to ensuring that the UK meets its commitment to achieve Good Ecological Status (GES). Right now, the UK is failing to achieve GES and seabirds, a key indicator of ocean health are not just failing, but worsening.
Better planning and a more strategic approach to deployment is vital. But it will not be enough.
Powering healthy seas with Nature Positive offshore wind
The ambition shown by the UK Government for accelerating offshore wind needs to be matched with efforts to restore our seas. This must include tackling other pressures impacting on nature including fisheries. For example, ensuring our seabirds have enough food and preventing bycatch. We must also ensure our Marine Protected Areas are more than paper parks by managing these sites and ensuring the most important areas for seabirds and their prey species are part of the network.
Ambitious Seabird Conservation Strategies are urgently needed to bring about these changes and must delivered alongside our offshore energy transition. A Nature Positive approach to the expansion of offshore wind is the gold standard that the UK Government must deliver to be true world leaders in this technology.
The window of opportunity
The window of opportunity is closing fast to protect nature and to transform our energy system. Now, more than ever, we need our governments to work vigorously and show an unprecedented political will to build a just, resilient, and sustainable energy system, and in parallel creating a nature positive future.
Look out for our new report on offshore wind and nature restoration coming this summer!
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