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A wind farm off the coast of the UK Alamy Stock Photo

North Sea Summit: Ireland and UK need to cooperate on offshore wind energy, says Eamon Ryan

Nine countries have agreed to ramp up capacity for harnessing offshore wind to generate power.

LAST UPDATE | 24 Apr 2023

IRELAND AND THE UK should cooperate on renewable energy and offshore wind development, Minister Eamon Ryan has said as countries met to consider how to ramp up wind energy generation.

A North Sea Summit took place in the coastal city of Ostend in Belgium this afternoon on how countries surrounding the sea can utilise it for energy, particularly through offshore wind.

Minister Ryan was be in attendance as minister for climate and energy along with Taoiseach Leo Varadkar and leaders from the European Commission, Belgium, Denmark, Germany, the Netherlands, Luxembourg, France, Norway and the UK.

The countries agreed to scale up wind power generation in the North Sea for the sake of the climate and reducing reliance on importing fossil fuels from Russia, with a view to increasing offshore wind generation from 30 GW to 120 GW by 2030 and at least 300 GW by 2050.

Leaders also discussed defending offshore infrastructure in the context of the sabotage of the Nord Stream gas pipelines in the Baltic Sea last year.

In a statement, EU Commission President Ursula von der Leyen said that “while globally, greenhouse gas emission rose last year by 1%, in the European Union the greenhouse gas emissions were reduced by 2.5%”.

“In other words, there was a formidable boost, in this year of crisis, to renewables production in the European Union. We have doubled the additional deployment of renewable energy last year and we have, for the very first time, generated more electricity from wind and sun compared to gas,” von der Leyen said.

“I very strongly welcome the Ostend Declaration. It is doubling down on the targets set in Esbjerg for offshore wind production. It will give us all the wind we need in our sails to set the course onto climate neutrality,” she said.

Speaking to The Journal ahead of the summit, Minister Ryan said he believed one of the most significant developments in the last six months was an agreement struck between the UK and the North Seas Energy Corporation (NESC), which consists of the countries attending today’s summit, to work together on developing sustainable and cost-effective offshore energy.

The UK had participated in the NESC as an EU member state but after Brexit, it returned to the fold only a few months ago in December when it signed a memorandum of understanding.

The path for the memorandum was paved at a meeting in Dublin last year while Ireland held the presidency of the NESC.

The nine NESC countries also agreed to reach at least 260 GW of offshore wind energy by 2050, which would account for more than 85% of the EU’s total target of 300 GW by 2050.

“The first most important thing for me, and we started it in the meeting in Dun Laoghaire last September, was to bring the United Kingdom back into the cooperation agreement. We signed off on that last December,” Minister Ryan said.

“That was probably the most important development in the last six months because in truth, the UK is one of the leading players in offshore wind, but also because we’re the island behind the island, as it were,” he said.

Having good cooperation with the United Kingdom, building new interconnection with the United Kingdom, sharing some of our ports and facilities and cooperation on energy in general – whatever has happened in Brexit, it makes sense for us to continue to cooperate on energy and climate and that’s what we’re doing particularly in offshore wind.

The summit sought to further expand countries’ ambitions to use the North Sea to generate energy and consider the best means to transmitting electricity between countries. 

“It’s prime ministers and energy ministers, so that’s a sign of how significant people take this whole new industry. It is one that works best in cooperation,” Minister Ryan said.

“We’re all in a race somewhat because each country has really ambitious plans to expand offshore wind, so in some ways, we’re racing against each other to grow out bigger first, but also it works best in cooperation because we’ll have to share a lot of that energy, we will work to the same standards, and that brings down the cost and makes it quicker to develop.”

He said key focuses would be on the enhancement of supply chain infrastructure and discussions on sharing power generated from the sea.

“Particularly for Ireland, that’s something my colleagues are always interested in because in truth, we have such a large resource for the size of our country, that they’re really interested in interconnection with Ireland and trading in some of the energy, be that hydrogen or ammonia or other fuels that we will be able to develop with offshore renewable energy,” he said.

He said wind energy is “increasingly the cheapest form of power, so it actually helps bring down the price of electricity and gives us much greater security because we won’t be relying on imported gas from other distant locations”.

The Irish government has set a target of building capacity for 5 GW of offshore wind generation by 2030 as part of wider aims to drive down emissions and shift away from fossil fuels that are damaging the climate.

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, a leading scientific body on climate, has found that human activities have “unequivocally” caused global temperatures to rise, primarily by emitting greenhouse gases.

Climate change is already disrupting people’s lives in multiple ways across various regions of the world and has caused “substantial damages” and “irreversible losses” to ecosystems, according to its latest report.

Without sufficient action, the impacts, losses and damages from climate change are expected to escalate with every increment of global warming and interact to create “compound and cascading” risks that are more complex and difficult to manage.

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