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EU Commission urged to act on late national sea basin plans by Parliament committee

Committee MEPs call on the European Commission to intervene on Member State delays to sustainable sea basin management plans, but their report falls short on how energy and nature protection overlap.

The EU Commission should take action against countries which did not hand in sea area management plans on time, according to a committee vote by MEPs yesterday. 

The majority of these Maritime Spatial Plans, which look at how to manage marine and coastal areas sustainably, were not delivered by the 31 March 2021 deadline, or are incomplete.

The Parliament Committee on Industry, Research and Energy, which was voting on a non-legislative report on offshore renewable energy, also repeated its overall commitment to energy efficiency. Putting energy efficiency first in all relevant policies would help the climate by saving energy and boosting electrification in sectors such as heating, transport and some industries.

The report adopted yesterday emphasises the importance of joint planning, and proposes the creation of accessible regional maps showing how marine spaces are used ﹘ points supported by WWF.

The report also “welcomes” the Commission’s proposal to help ocean users - like industry, civil society, fishers and scientists - exchange views and work together on environmental, economic and social issues. This is a significant improvement on the first draft of the report, which failed to mention key stakeholders, such as those in coastal communities.

Jonathan Packroff, Climate & Energy Policy Assistant at the WWF European Policy Office said,
“The EU’s offshore renewables expansion is an essential part of how we decarbonise energy to limit global warming to 1.5°C, but how it will be done is crucial. Yesterday’s vote prioritising energy efficiency, and MEPs’ support for ensuring everyone impacted has their say, are critical pieces in the puzzle of a successful roll-out of the EU’s offshore renewable energy strategy.”

However, the report leaves a significant gap on marine protection, failing to adopt a clear position on renewable energy projects within Marine Protected Areas (MPAs). MPAs are designed to protect specific species or habitats in marine ecosystems, but in order to provide effective protection for biodiversity, they must be properly managed. Infrastructure such as wind turbines in these areas risk fragmenting important habitat structures, in turn diminishing ecosystem resilience to climate change. WWF is advocating for renewable energy developments to not be placed within MPAs or other areas that are ecologically valuable for sensitive species and habitats. 

In the case of areas that would be designated as “strictly-protected” under the EU Biodiversity Strategy, such developments must be prohibited entirely. Offshore renewable projects in MPAs should only be considered on an exceptional and case by case basis, under strict conditions and provided that they have been robustly assessed according to the relevant nature conservation legislation, are rooted in the precautionary principle and where it is proven that there are no alternative sites outside of the considered MPA.

Helena Rodrigues, Ocean Policy Officer at the WWF European Policy Office said,
“There cannot be a trade-off between clean energy and conservation in the EU. We need a clear strategy to minimise the environmental impacts of human activities on nature, including a ban on offshore wind energy developments in strictly-protected areas. These points are critical to achieving both the European Green Deal and the 2030 Biodiversity Strategy, and must be added to the report adopted by the European Parliament when it is voted in plenary.”

The European Parliament plenary vote on the report is scheduled to take place in January 2022 and, if adopted, will constitute the European Parliament’s answer to the European Commission’s offshore renewables Strategy from November 2020.

Sarah Azau
Media & Communications Manager
+32 473 57 31 37

Larissa Milo-Dale
Senior Marine Communications Officer
+32 483 26 20 86
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