The high seas has vast offshore potential, but who has the right to own it?

The offshore wind industry is making great strides in developing technology to build projects further from the shore, including technological innovations in floating foundations and hydrogen storage. However, a new report by Chatham Partners, a boutique law firm specializing in renewable energy, indicates that if such technology were to allow the construction of wind farms in the high seas, the current legal framework would not have the scope to cover such development.

The high seas are all regions of the sea that sit outside the control of a single nation. They make up 50% of the surface area of the planet, and cover over two-thirds of the oceans. However, the lack of clear rules covering development in the high seas will be a challenge for using any of these areas for offshore wind. According to the report, “Offshore Wind in High Seas: Unlimited potential beyond national control?,” the industry should call for discussions to form a robust legal framework now, or risk missing the opportunities the high seas could offer in decades to come.

Global efforts towards decarbonization have proven offshore wind to be a viable alternative power source to fossil fuels. However, the sector could still face challenges in developing close to shore due to countries’ desire to protect coastal ecosystems, and conflicts with local industries and the military or simply inactivity. These would not be obstacles in most of the high seas.

While offshore wind at high seas clearly has barriers to overcome, it could drastically increase capacity by adding almost 70% more construction space to consider. However, if offshore wind were to look to the high seas for development, the lack of a legal framework will become a major obstacle.

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