More offshore infrastructure means more interaction with the ocean environment we must protect. Image: Francesco Ungaro on Unsplash
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- As human demands and interventions in a finite marine space increase, it will become more and more challenging to protect and restore marine biodiversity.
- One priority action must be to find and enable ways to ensure offshore renewable energy leaves ocean health in overall better shape.
- The different and increasing ways in which the ocean is used, and the complexity of challenges involved, means collaboration is essential to find and implement solutions to protect the ocean.
Ocean-based activities can contribute to more than 20% of the emissions reduction needed to keep the world on a 1.5℃ pathway.
Alongside important roles identified for sustainably managing carbon sequestration capacity of coastal ecosystems, and decarbonising fisheries and ocean transport, ocean-based renewable energy infrastructure is one of the principal solutions being relied upon globally to meet the Paris Agreement.
Ensuring a healthy and thriving marine environment is the bedrock upon which this huge potential rests. But as human demands and interventions in a finite marine space increase, it will become more and more challenging to protect the ocean and restore marine biodiversity.
Doing so won’t be easy, though in addition to supporting climate and nature goals, success will enhance food security and support local communities that depend on the ocean for their livelihoods. Such a reality is possible if key changes are made now – and with the ocean’s long-term health in mind.
1. Renewable energy can protect the ocean – if it’s done right
The scale and speed of the offshore renewable energy infrastructure build-out that is critical to meeting climate goals will be like nothing we have seen before. Climate change is growing amongst the biggest drivers of biodiversity loss, meaning the energy transition has a role in halting this crisis too. But more offshore infrastructure means more interaction with the marine environment we ultimately seek to protect.
Understanding and optimising the biodiversity impact of this is an urgent task. We must find and enable ways to ensure offshore renewable energy leaves nature better than before.
This means continued efforts to avoid and mitigate potential negative impacts, for example avoiding the most sensitive habitats and using technology to reduce the impacts of underwater noise on marine mammals and fish during installation.
But minimising negative impacts is not enough to protect the ocean. We need a step-change in collective ambition for the offshore wind sector – to deliver the transition away from fossil fuels in a way that actively contributes to restoration of marine biodiversity, at the ecosystem level. For example, we need to test, learn from, and develop projects that restore habitat conditions and feeding grounds for large fish species, such as the artificial reef installations Ørsted installed at the Borselle wind farm in the Netherlands.
Limiting the global temperature rise in line with the Paris Agreement and restoring biodiversity are more than mutually supporting goals: we cannot succeed in one without success in both. This fundamental principle must be fully adopted by policymakers, business and investors alike.
2. Collaboration is essential to good ocean stewardship
The different and increasing ways in which the ocean is used, and the complexity of challenges involved, means collaboration is essential to finding and implementing solutions. Managing our collective ocean use well is key to reconciling potentially disparate goals and creating a thriving blue economy for all – one that operates in the interest of nature protection, climate justice and community rights.
Business leaders across different sectors of the ocean economy must come together with the scientific community, experts in marine ecology and policymakers on ocean stewardship. I want to focus on three important aspects of this, where momentum needs to be maintained to progress this agenda in practical ways.
First, we must foster cross-industry collaboration to protect the ocean, such as that being facilitated by the Ocean 100 Dialogues platform, which is working to accelerate voluntary industry initiatives, informed by science, to progress a sustainable and equitable ocean economy through the greater gains of cross-industry impact.
Second, bringing the data and experience of ocean users to policymakers, to inform foundational decisions such as on Marine Spatial Planning (MSP) – a central policy tool with the potential to reconcile efforts on climate and biodiversity, sustainable development goals, and the wider ocean economy including energy, food, shipping and coastal tourism. The UN Global Compact Ocean Stewardship Coalition is doing important work in this space, and it is vital that progress is made on the recommendations in its “Roadmap to Integrate Clean Offshore Renewable Energy into Climate Smart Marine Spatial Planning”.
What's the World Economic Forum doing about the ocean?
Third, overcoming tensions between the offshore renewable energy and marine nature conservation communities. Climate change and biodiversity loss are deeply interdependent, but solutions to them are at times seen as conflicting. A central issue for policymakers seeking to address the two crises is how MSP can find space for the necessary expansion in both nature and renewable energy offshore. This is why Ørsted has come together with ARK Nature to explore the potential of marine rewilding alongside offshore wind, to support healthy oceans that can sustain diverse ecosystems and a healthy society.
3. To protect the ocean we need to finance a sustainable ocean economy
Over the coming decade, many sectors of the ocean economy are set to expand faster than the rate of the mainstream economy. For this expansion to be aligned with goals on climate and biodiversity, funds must be redirected away from harmful activities and towards development of blue carbon solutions and productive, sustainable co-existence of ocean activities.
Yet there is a major gap in finance for supporting a sustainable ocean economy. Each $1 put into priority ocean actions is expected to yield at least $5 in global benefits, but only 1% of the ocean economy’s total value was invested in sustainable projects over the last ten years, and the vast majority was through government and philanthropic efforts. We need to urgently overcome barriers to investment being realised. For example, by progressing key actions identified by the Ocean Panel to plug the blue finance gap. This includes mobilising the private sector to shift funds towards sustainable ocean business and technology solutions.
The new energy crisis we face brings the urgency of this issue into stark relief: we need rapidly to deliver huge global expansion in offshore wind, and we must get it right for ocean health. The implications of failing to protect the ocean are huge and far-reaching. It’s time to work together on common goals, to deliver a just and sustainable ocean economy, and enable the great benefits that it offers.
You can learn more about the Ocean 100 Dialogues here.
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The views expressed in this article are those of the author alone and not the World Economic Forum.
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