Assessing the environmental credentials of marine spatial plans in Europe

In accordance with the EU MSP directive all EU coastal member states were required to produce marine spatial plans by 2021. Not all have met this deadline but many are now published and adopted by national governments. A key requirement of the MSP directive is that marine spatial plans follow an ecosystem-based approach and contribute to the achievement of Good Environmental Status for marine ecosystems, as set out in the EU Marine Strategy Framework Directive. Over the last nine months or so, I have been engaged in the evaluation of selected national-level marine spatial plans, with a view to assessing their degree of alignment with EU environmental legislation and policy objectives. This work has been commissioned by environmental NGOs: Birdlife International and the Irish umbrella NGO Sustainable Water Network (SWAN). In the following, I provide an overview of this work with links to the published reports.

Source: (C) Birdlife International
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Spatial Justice, Relational Values and Territorial Cohesion in Europe

In a scientific report commissioned by NUI Galway, Department of Geography (Dr. Marie Mahon) under the EU Horizon 2020 project IMAJINE: Integrative Mechanisms for Addressing Spatial Justice and Territorial Inequalities in Europe, I was tasked with exploring the relational qualities of spatial justice, together with Dr. Brendan O’ Keeffe. The report was written against the background of increased awareness of the fragility and vulnerability, but also, in some respects, the resilience of European solidarity in the face of external shocks such as the Greek Euro-crisis, the 2015 refugee crisis and the exit of the UK from the EU. Spatial justice is recognised as a fundamentally contested concept related to normative EU concepts of a Social Europe and the discourses of economic, social and territorial cohesion. More recently it is reflected, if partially, in the concept of a Just Transition in the context of the EU Green Deal.

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Marine Spatial Planning Webinar 18th May 

On Wednesday, May 18th, I will chair a webinar, together with Heather Ritchie of Ulster University focused on MSP challenges and opportunities for local authorities on the island of Ireland. The webinar is hosted by the International Centre for Local and Regional Development (ICLRD) and supported by the Maynooth University Social Science Institute (MUSSI).

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New Project: Assessing the Alignment of Marine Spatial Plans with EU Environmental Legislation

Following a successful tender application, I have been commissioned by BirdLife International to conduct an evaluation of national level Marine Spatial Plans (MSPs). Over the next few months, I will develop a methodology for the assessment of MSPs based on a screening of relevant EU environmental directives. This methodology will initially be applied to four countries located within the Baltic and North Sea Regions: Belgium, Germany, Lithuania and Sweden and subsequently made available to practitioners and stakeholders for the evaluation of MSPs across Europe.

BirdLife

More than Lines on a Map? Towards Regional Governance for Irish Marine Space

Last month, I spoke at the Conference of Irish Geographers about the current developments and future challenges in marine protected area (MPA) management and maritime spatial planning (MSP) in the Irish context. In this commentary, I further develop some of the key arguments and proposals from that presentation.

As an island nation, Ireland is surrounded by the sea and has an extensive maritime territory (Figure 1 below). Nevertheless, the sea has often occupied a peripheral position in the national consciousness and politics. There is a prevailing sense that successive Irish governments have ‘turned their backs on the sea’, neglecting this rich resource (e.g. Tom MacSweeney 2008, Kevin O’ Sullivan 2019). Currently, however, Ireland’s marine territory is subject to significant policy attention, indicating perhaps, the beginning of a new relationship between the land and the sea. Irish marine governance is evolving rapidly with the adoption of a National Marine Planning Framework (NMPF), the preparation of a Marine Planning and Development Management Bill, and ambitious targets for the large-scale expansion of Ireland’s MPA network, in line with international commitments. Yet, blind spots and a sense of disjointed policy-making continues with, for example, the lack of marine biodiversity characterization or sensitivity mapping to support the preparation of NMPF. Indeed, by all accounts (the final NMPF will not be made public until June 17th), the NMPF does not provide a map of spatial strategy or an indication of priority areas for specific uses and activities at sea. In this sense, it is very much a policy framework rather than a spatial plan and barely meets the requirements set out under EU MSP Directive. This apparent lack of willingness to provide strategic policy direction in relation to the spatial distribution of activities and priority areas for ecosystem protection at sea is disappointing. As pressures for the development of marine space increase, there is a real risk of a reactive, development-led regime emerging by default. 

Figure 1: Ireland’s maritime territory (continental shelf). Source: Marine Institute.

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