As you’ve no doubt heard, the UN climate change conference, COP26 (the 26th ‘Conference of the Parties’) has taken place in Glasgow over the past two weeks, where world leaders, scientists, negotiators, and stakeholders from across the globe gathered to discuss how to tackle climate change. Their work was focused on how to achieve net zero goals, how to ensure financial backing for the countries most affected, and crucially, how to ‘keep 1.5 degrees within reach’. With the summit now over and the dust settling, we at OSC are looking, as always, at how climate targets will affect the future of our oceans.

The underwater environment hasn’t always been at the forefront of the climate conversation previously, but as our scientific understanding of marine ecosystems continues to grow, so too does global awareness of the role they can play in preventing (further) global warming. The oceans are a vital carbon sink; between 1994 and 2007 they absorbed as much as 35% of global anthropogenic CO2 emissions1. Current CO2 emissions stand at 42 gigatons per year, and to have even a 2/3 chance of staying below 1.5 °C of warming, the latest science predicts we must reduce this by 4 gigatons per year over the next decade2. While UK emissions of greenhouse gases have fallen over the past 30 years, to 57% of their 1990 levels3, more needs to be done if we are to meet the UK target of NetZero emissions by 2050. Renewable energy, of course, has a huge role to play in this.

At OSC, we are proud to work in the offshore renewables sector, at the intersection between science and industry. Our recent scientific publications have explored many topics across renewable technology, ranging from the behaviour of marine mammals and fish around tidal turbine structures4,5, to the use of industry-funded Remotely Operated Vehicles (ROVs) for addressing research questions in marine science6,7 – check out the COP26 panel to see some incredible ROV footage of the deep sea! 

What’s more, our work in the field plays a crucial role in safeguarding marine mammals that surround offshore renewables (and other structures), by applying real-time mitigation strategies during their construction7,8. We strongly believe that, with suitable protective measures in place, tidal turbines, offshore wind farms and other offshore renewables can provide a valuable source of clean energy, while minimising impacts to the marine environment. In fact, once in place, offshore structures may actually provide benefits. Our research also explores the ‘rigs to reefs’ concept, and the potential for existing offshore platforms to become valuable habitats for fish and invertebrates9,10

Overall, marine conservation remains as important as ever in maintaining a stable climate. Speaking at COP26, renowned climate scientist Professor Johan Röckstrom discussed the importance of resilient oceans to meet climate goals, and the target of increasing global Marine Protected Areas, which currently stand at just 7%, to 30% by 20303. Whatever your thoughts on COP26, it is clear that offshore renewable energy and safeguarding the marine environment will play a vital role in tackling the climate crisis over the next century.

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