Use offshore wind expansions to drive nature restoration, report urges
The UK can forge ahead with its ambitious plans for offshore wind while strengthening approaches to protect nature, according to a new report that calls on the Government to set out nature-based management approaches for new offshore wind developments.
The new RSPB report, published today (31 August) finds that the UK can continue to generate renewables at sea while also strengthening efforts to protect nature, creating mutual benefits that help tackle the climate and ecological crises.
The report finds that as the UK moves to scale up wind farm expansions from 15GW currently, policymakers and project developers will need to consider the “substantial footprint” this will have around UK coasts.
The report calls for policymakers to introduce “robust” evidence bases on ecological grounds to outline the environmental costs of sitting new offshore windfarms into the seabed. It also calls for Impact assessments that identify cumulative impacts based on location and for country-level marine plans to be introduced to provide better clarity for project development.
Recommendations also include introducing adaptive management techniques that would provide project flexibility if new research were to surface and, where necessary, strategic compensation based on ecological impacts.
An overarching theme of the report is the need for a “marine net-gain” system to ensure that renewables development contributes to environmental restoration.
RenewableUK’s Environmental Policy Analyst Juliette Webb said: ”Not only are new offshore wind farms lowering our energy bills, but they also remain critical to tackling climate change, which poses the greatest threat to bird populations and our natural environment. It’s vitally important that we build well-sited clean energy projects to reach net zero as fast as possible.
“We’re working with the RSPB to ensure that we develop offshore wind farms in an environmentally sensitive way that protects birds and support marine ecosystems. This includes adapting the location of our wind farms and providing specially-designed safe places for birds to nest at sea.”
It was recently revealed that more than a fifth of capacity additions to the global offshore wind market came from the UK in 2021, with the industry creating enough green energy to power one-third of UK homes.
The Crown Estate’s tenth annual Offshore Wind Report found that global offshore wind capacity reached more than 48.2GW, of which more than 20% came from the UK. The report adds that, by the end of 2021, the capacity of fully commissioned sites in the UK had reached 11.3GW – an 8% increase compared to 2020.
Offshore wind energy generation in 2021 was enough to cover the needs of 33% of UK homes. In 2011, this figure was just 4%. The UK Government notably has a commitment for the nation to host 40GW of offshore wind by 2030.
While the UK is surging towards its ambitious targets for offshore wind, much more is needed from policymakers to support nature. A preliminary report from the GFI last October highlighted how planned public spending on nature conservation and restoration in the UK for 2022-2032 is up to £97bn short of the levels needed to deliver commitments made by the UK Government and devolved governments.
While there are legally binding targets to halting species decline, the report urges that a joined up approach be introduced to help embed this into the wider net-zero target.
RSPB’s Katie-jo Luxton sadi: “We have a clear vision of what we want to achieve; thriving seabird colonies and sustainable energy. However, the current system is not working. Energy companies are being locked into development sites that are problematic for wildlife and the Secretary of State is regularly being asked to make impossible decisions that may achieve our energy targets but only at the expense of our seabirds and marine habitats.
“We need to change this, as the decisions we make today will have long lasting and potentially irreversible effects on seabird colonies that are already struggling. This report clearly states what we need to do at a time when decision-makers are beginning to plan new developments. With the right planning and a cross sector approach, we can achieve world leading ocean recovery and secure renewable energy, but only if we take transformative Nature Positive action, now.”
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