Offshore wind industry and marine planning communities to intensify collaboration on climate change

On Ocean Day at COP 26, the UN Global Compact launched a roadmap to advance offshore renewable energy using a climate-smart approach to ocean management, together with the offshore wind industry and the marine planning community. 

In order to limit global warming to a 1.5° C increase in line with the Paris Agreement targets, a significant increase in renewable energy generation will be necessary, including offshore resources. Offshore wind is one of the most promising clean energy sources but faces challenges slotting into an increasingly busy marine space that is suffering ecosystem and biodiversity pressures. 

Leaders from the Global Wind Energy Council and IOC-UNESCO joined the UN Global Compact to voice their support for the roadmap and discuss ways to intensify collaboration between the industry, government authorities and the marine spatial planning community. 

Marine Spatial Planning is a multi-sectoral, participatory process for planning and management of ocean and coastal zones. Importantly, it can reconcile the clean energy policies needed to meet net zero targets with the biodiversity agenda and other ocean users, including fisheries, shipping and coastal tourism. According to IOC-UNESCO, as of 2021, over forty-five countries worldwide are either implementing or approving marine spatial plans – moving away from sectoral management to an integrated process. 

The UN Global Compact roadmap calls on MSP to be more ‘climate-smart’. Climate change will impact our oceans, but currently, only a few marine spatial plans integrate adaptation and mitigation to climate change into their objectives and planning frameworks. A climate-smart approach prioritizes space for climate-mitigation solutions like offshore renewable energy, as well as nature-based mitigation and adaptation solutions, such as marine protected areas (MPAs). 

A climate-smart framework also addresses the socio-economic dimension. One offshore windq farm has the potential to create 10,000 full-time jobs over the 25-year project lifetime of a 500-MW offshore wind farm. Using planning tools, careful siting of new offshore energy developments in MSP could have a cascading positive effect on potentially less-developed coastal areas and disadvantaged communities – offering an opportunity for new decent green jobs as part of the energy transition. The roadmap calls for eight actions: 

  • Recognize the importance of, and ensure implementation of, a climate-smart MSP process.   
  • Unlock public and multilateral financing to support countries advancing climate-smart MSP   
  • Improve knowledge and data-sharing on national and international levels   
  • Consider socio-economic considerations in planning decisions
  • Strengthen the cross-border and transnational collaboration mechanisms on MSP and offshore renewable energy   
  • Ensure a stakeholder process that uses a climate-smart approach to minimize conflicts  and maximize synergies between ocean users 
  • Strengthen the links  between offshore renewable energy and biodiversity protection and restoration to maximize climate mitigation effects.
  • Explore synergistic multi-use combinations that can speed up the transition to low-carbon and climate-resilient economies

Sturla Henriksen, UN Global Compact Special Advisor, said: “The ocean hosts a wealth of climate solutions – but in order for these to be unleashed, better and science-based based planning will be utterly essential. We cannot solve one problem by causing another. It is essential that mitigation measures like offshore wind do not in turn damage biodiversity. A climate-smart MSP can give planners the framework to scale-up climate action while respecting marine habitats, providing ripple effects to local communities, leave room for climate innovation, and future-proof our planet’s largest ecosystem” 

Ben Backwell, CEO GWEC, said: “While the world is searching for solutions to the climate emergency, the ocean holds a magnitude of untapped emissions mitigation potential. Offshore wind energy will be vital to achieving large-scale, reliable and affordable renewable energy in all regions of the world. It delivers clean energy, inward investment, economic growth and sustainable jobs at enormous volumes, and as such will form a vital part of ensuring a just energy transition. Climate-smart marine spatial planning can guide the growth of offshore wind, unlocking the sector’s potential to decarbonise energy systems while ensuring the biodiversity of ocean and coastal zones can thrive. With this roadmap, the Global Wind Energy Council is looking forward to working with partners such as the UN Global Compact and IOC-UNESCO to support governments around the world in harnessing offshore wind to accelerate sustainable climate action.”

Julian Barbiere, Head for Marine Policy at IOC UNESCO  said: “MSP offers a practical way to create and establish a more rational use of marine space and the interactions among its uses, to balance demands for development with the need to protect the environment, and to deliver social and economic outcomes in an open and planned way. IOC has been leading this paradigm change by providing technical support to nations since 2005. As more countries embark on MSP processes globally, mainstreaming climate change issues in national plans, creating incentives for climate smart solutions, and integrating the spatial demand for offshore renewable energies becomes a priority for the ocean to play its full role in climate change mitigation and adaptation.”