The RSPB supports the deployment of offshore renewable energy, key to help us reach net zero by 2045. However, this transition must be achieved in harmony with nature: the right technology in the right place with enough space for nature.
Offshore renewable energy such as wind farms, wave and tidal power could make a crucial contribution towards reaching net zero in the UK by 2045, ahead of Government 2050 target. This is crucial for protecting nature from climate change.
But thoughtlessly expanding offshore renewables could have devastating consequences for endangered seabirds such as puffins and other wildlife.
We need joint solutions for the nature and climate emergencies as we cannot save nature without tackling climate change, and we cannot reach net zero without a healthy environment.
There is a worrying absence of information to base environmental assessments on, which is exposing marine wildlife to increased risks and uncertainties.
A comprehensive network of designated marine protected areas would help steer developers towards less sensitive locations, however the current network presents significant gaps.
Adding to the problem, offshore wind, wave and tidal are modern industries. The data simply isn’t there yet. And poor monitoring of existing developments is not helping.
A new approach
Marine Spatial Planning
We must unite renewable energy expansion with action to revive our seas. A truly green energy revolution requires a new approach.
Marine spatial planning is needed to direct development to the least problematic areas. Although the 2009 Marine and Coastal Act introduced Marine Spatial Planning, the most important aspects haven’t been enforced with plans lacking strategic and spatial guidance.
Across the devolved nations things are different - in Scotland future offshore wind development has been addressed in a spatial sectoral plan. Encouraging collaboration and a strategic approach for sustainable use of our seas is an ongoing matter.
Understand the impact
Advancing the monitoring programme will be key, using standardised data collection methods so we can make scientific comparisons between different developments.
Innovative technologies will be critical for protecting nature. For example, floating offshore wind turbines can be positioned in deeper, and likely less sensitive areas. We also need to seriously consider how developers can strategically compensate for the damage already done by offshore wind and marine development.
Finally, and critically, a new approach must include Government-led action to address the poor condition of our seas, this is vital if we are to truly revive our seas.
It is not in the ability of individual developers to safeguard our seabirds. We need a strategy - one that recognises the cumulative impacts of each project. All intervention must focus on tackling the root causes of wildlife decline rather than tending to the symptoms with short-term solutions.