Professor Deborah Greaves OBE, Professor in Ocean Engineering and Professor John Spicer, Professor of Marine Zoology.
For two-thirds of the Earth’s history, two-thirds of its surface has been ocean.
Although the ocean, and its inhabitants, were feared by many ancient civilizations, it was also a source of wonder, a source of food – it was the ‘Inexhaustible Ocean’. However, it is only in recent years that we have come to appreciate the scale of its life-giving power. A resource of clean energy, a producer of much of our oxygen, a regulator of climate, home for millions of different interrelated types of life from viruses and bacteria to the mighty whales, an incredible food resource, but no longer inexhaustible. We now appreciate how the scale of the ever-increasing human enterprise is threatening our ocean and with it all life on earth; pollution, overfishing, warming and acidification, reduced oxygen, are all taking their toll on marine life.
Now more than ever, it is crucial we learn how to value, protect, manage, and use sustainably the natural capital that our ocean produces.
The care of our ocean cannot though be considered in isolation. The issue is global and so the solution must be global bringing together industry, science, regulators and local communities to tackle the challenges we face on both local and international scales.
The United Nations Climate Change Conference (COP26) in Glasgow this year presents a unique opportunity to make a tangible difference, to show not just in words but in actions a commitment to the health of our ocean, the health of our planet, the state of our common home. It has the potential to bring together all the sectors of society needed to effect lasting and positive change. And it does so at a time when many are waking up to the reality of damage to our home.
In order to combat climate change, we need to reduce the greenhouse gas emissions into the atmosphere. That means reducing our reliance on fossil fuels, which has built up over many centuries, and achieving the transition to clean energy. Renewable energy is the way forward in that regard and offshore renewables, including offshore wind, wave energy and tidal stream offer great potential for the UK.
Over the last 30 years, wind energy has gone from being alternative energy to mainstream. Offshore wind has seen significant growth around our shores and greater than expected cost reduction in recent years. The UK Government’s 10-point plan for a Green Industrial Revolution – designed to help us meet net zero greenhouse gas targets by 2050 – recognises the key role of offshore wind, which is seen as forming the backbone of the UK’s future energy mix.
The UK’s offshore wind capacity is projected to quadruple in the next nine years, with 40GW targeted by 2030. Offshore wind farms that have been deployed so far are in relatively shallow water with turbines fixed to the seabed on monopile or jacket structures. But that is a limited resource. To achieve net zero targets, we will have to go further offshore and into deeper water where fixed offshore wind may not be viable and that means new floating technology needs to be developed. As a new technology, the cost is relatively high, but will reduce with further development, and the same can be said of both wave and tidal technologies.
However, more research is needed and offshore wind cannot be the whole answer. Floating offshore wind technology is still under development, cumulative impacts are not fully understood and, because renewable energy resources are by their nature variable, a diverse renewable energy mix combining each of wind, solar, wave and tidal, is needed to ensure balance and resilience.