What’s the issue?
Clean energy is of vital importance for tackling the climate and biodiversity emergency. Offshore renewable energy infrastructure such as wind farms, tidal and wave devices will be key components for our future energy mix and trajectory towards net zero. However, inappropriately located sites can have negative effects on our environment and biodiversity. While we support the deployment of offshore renewable energy devices, it must not come at the expense of our natural environment.
The 2019 Government Climate Action Plan puts in place a decarbonisation pathway to 2030 which is consistent with the target of net zero by 2050. The 2020 Programme for Government set a target for achieving 5 GW capacity in offshore wind by 2030 and taking advantage of a potential of at least 30 GW of offshore floating wind power in deeper Atlantic waters. These targets highlight the expected increase (200 fold) in offshore renewables over the coming years.
Unfortunately, at present a time lag between the designation of Marine Protected Areas and expansion of offshore renewable energy sites exists. Coupled with the lack of a spatial element to Ireland’s first Marine Spatial plan (the National Marine Planning Framework) an ecosystem-based approach has not been applied to the fullest extent. An ecosystem based approach to marine planning is vital to ensure that development does not negatively impact the ecosystem and its components.
What needs to happen?
It is important that the development of sites for offshore renewables undergo a robust and transparent SEA and AA process, underpinned by adequate biodiversity data. Sites must prove no negative impact to the surrounding environment or that the effects are sufficiently minimised through appropriate location, design and effective mitigation practices. The designation of sites for offshore renewable energy must not undermine our obligations under the EU Birds and Habitats Directives and Marine Strategy Framework Directive.
Through well planned, transparent processes and stakeholders working together, we can achieve ambitious climate and energy targets while protecting and restoring our marine and coastal environments, tackling both the climate and biodiversity emergency.