2022 was a big year for the ocean and biodiversity, two subjects that are catching up with climate change on the political agenda.
There was a day dedicated to the ocean and biodiversity at COP27 in Egypt, and separate UN conferences on ocean health and biodiversity respectively. My hope is that all three will now be treated with the urgency they deserve.
Climate and biodiversity are connected – solutions must be connected too
The devastating impacts of climate change are well-known. The implications of biodiversity loss are now gaining prominence too. With average wildlife populations having shrunk by 69% since 1970, scientists believe the planet is in the midst of a mass extinction event. Such loss of biodiversity risks causing the collapse of the natural ecosystems that humanity relies upon to thrive, and to survive.
And these two crises – climate change and biodiversity loss – are deeply connected, in a negative feedback cycle where each one exacerbates the other. We can only break this cycle if we ensure solutions to one crisis also help, or at the least do not worsen, the other.
Climate change is one of the top five causes of biodiversity loss. As it progresses, so too will the scale of its impact on nature. In turn, loss of biodiversity and ecosystem health is diminishing the planet’s natural systems of climate regulation and mitigation. The starkest example is the ocean, where the loss of marine biodiversity is weakening the ocean ecosystem and its critical role as a global climate regulator and one of the world’s largest carbon sinks.
Renewable energy is an opportunity to unite action on biodiversity and climate
Ocean-based renewable energy, such as offshore wind power, is central to meeting the Paris Agreement. Ocean based activities, including the conservation of ocean ecosystems that sequester carbon, decarbonising the blue economic sectors of marine transport, ocean food and tourism, and ocean-based renewable energy can contribute to more than 20% of the emissions reduction needed to keep the world on the path to meeting climate goals.
But two things seem dangerously out of focus:
- We must do more to ensure a healthy and thriving marine environment – this is the bedrock upon which the ocean’s huge potential for climate mitigation rests. As set out at COP27 in the Blue Ambition Loop report, each of the sub sectors of the blue economy must practice sustainable ocean stewardship with regard to their impact on ocean biodiversity alongside decarbonisation.
- There is a limit to the marine space in which sustainable blue economic activity can take place – and world leaders have agreed to protect 30% of this space by 2030. In this context, solutions to the climate and biodiversity crises are sometimes perceived to be in conflict, fighting for space. But it is urgent that we seek out the synergies and focus on practical solutions to shared goals.
To address the climate crisis and provide a reliable source of affordable energy, global offshore wind capacity is expected to increase by a factor of seven this decade. This will make an important contribution to halting biodiversity loss through limiting climate change. But we can and must do more: by integrating biodiversity enhancement into the way we deploy offshore wind, we will make the energy transition an active force for good on biodiversity, beyond climate mitigation’s benefits to nature.
There are three ways we can collectively move from words to action:
1. Energy industry: decarbonise now and integrate action on biodiversity
We need to phase out fossil fuels wherever possible and replace them with renewables deployed in a way that helps halt and reverse biodiversity loss. I hope that all stakeholders – not least energy companies – can agree that this is fundamental to any credible claims to nature protection.
The vital work done to support companies to set paths to net-zero emissions that are aligned to what science shows is necessary. Work underway by the Science-Based Targets Network to replicate this for nature will prove extremely important to help companies deliver appropriate – and credible – nature-positive solutions alongside rapid decarbonization.
As we deploy renewable energy, it is no longer enough to minimise potential negative impacts on the immediate environment. We need ambition and clear action to deliver a net positive impact on biodiversity, helping to reverse as well as halt biodiversity loss, and this is why Ørsted is prioritizing this ambition.
2. Conservation communities: work with us on shared goals
Collaboration is key to find the best solutions to this complex problem. We need to overcome perceived tensions between solutions for climate and nature, otherwise we’ll fail on both. By drawing upon the complementary expertise of renewable energy and conservation, and working together on the complex issues involved, we can advance our shared goals for a more sustainable future.
This is why, alongside many other collaborations, Ørsted and WWF have entered into a new global partnership to unite action on climate and biodiversity – bringing together expertise of one of the world leaders in offshore wind and the world’s largest nature conservation organisation.
3. Governments: integrate plans for nature protection and climate mitigation
We need policy makers to set tender criteria for offshore wind that better incentivise broader and sustainable societal value, not just a race to the bottom on cost for this already highly cost-competitive technology. A fresh and practical approach to Marine Spatial Planning is also needed, to find synergies in how we use this finite space in the best way to deliver sustainably.
“By integrating biodiversity enhancement into the way we deploy offshore wind, we will make the energy transition an active force for good on biodiversity. ”— Mads Nipper Chief Executive Officer, Ørsted
We must replicate the success of carbon disclosure with a mandatory requirement for large companies to assess and disclose their impacts and dependencies on biodiversity. To stand up to what science tells us about biodiversity and climate, we need a paradigm shift in the way we approach these interrelated crises. This means nothing less than taking bold action, and taking it now.
Ørsted is a member of the Ocean 100 Dialogues, science-business platform hosted by the World Economic Forum that enabled business leaders in the ocean economy to deliver cross-industry action that accelerates ocean stewardship for the climate change, biodiversity loss and equity agendas. Read more about our impact here.