Can Biodiversity Protection and Clean Energy Development Co-exist? 

Can Biodiversity Protection and Clean Energy Development Co-exist? 

While we know that there’s an urgent necessity to find renewable and clean sources of energy, advances in this area may be futile if we can’t also protect our wildlife populations. As we make clean energy advances with the construction of wind and solar farms, we may be adversely impacting the biodiversity in the area.

Generally speaking, around 25 acres of land is needed for every 5 megawatts of solar farm installation. With so much land required for these sorts of development, which may negatively impact the biodiversity of the land, doubts have been raised as to whether biodiversity protection and the development of clean energy solutions are both achievable. Luckily, there may be solutions that can rectify this problem.

The world’s environmental targets

Climate change and global warming effects everyone, and the world has responded by setting ambitious goals for the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions and the adoption of cleaner energy solutions.

The International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA) states that over 150 countries have set ambitious renewable energy goals, and importantly, over 130 of those countries have developing and emerging economies, such as the USA and UK. In fact:

  • Almost half of states in the USA have set 100% clean energy goals to be achieved between 2032 and 2050
  • Japan has set a target for its energy mix to include renewable energy by 2050
  • The UK has set a target of obtaining 95% low carbon electricity by 2030
  • The European Union has set a renewable energy target of 32% to be achieved by 2030. This might seem ambitious, but they have already surpassed their target of 20% for 2020.

IRENA estimates that 90% of the world’s electricity can and should come from renewable sources by 2050. Globally, the share of renewables was found to have reached 29% in 2020, according to the International Energy Agency.

The Importance of biodiversity protection

While there is a suggestion that the world has prioritised a commitment to the use of renewables and a transition to cleaner energy, the same can’t be said for biodiversity protection. In their 2020 Living Planet Report, the WWF stressed the urgent need for biodiversity conservation. In their findings, they discovered significant diversity loss in areas like Europe, Central Asia, Asia Pacific, Latin America, North America and Africa.

They also made further alarming discoveries about wildlife and habitat loss. They discovered that there was a loss of 3 billion birds over a 50-year period in the US, with over 1500 of 15000 European species threatened with extinction. They also found that over 80% of wetlands in East and Southeast Asia is currently classified as threatened.

In their 2019 Global Assessment Report on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services, the independent intergovernmental body, IPBES, suggests that around 1 million plant and animal species are already threatened with extinction. The urgent need to protect biodiversity has been recognised as important by the United Nations in the 15th of their 17 Sustainable Development Goals. This goal seeks to preserve life on land by protecting, restoring, and promoting sustainable use of terrestrial ecosystems.

How can we meet clean energy targets while protecting biodiversity?

There are many threats to biodiversity, including land and sea use change and deforestation to meet the demands of agriculture and food production. The WWF report highlights the conflict of finding sources of clean energy while protecting nature, drawing attention to several specific threats and issues:

  • Hydropower: The creation of dams and weirs can negatively impact migratory fish populations and cause catastrophic damage to fivers and the surrounding environment.
  • Offshore windfarms: Offshore windfarms can cause problems for birds, thanks to the increased noise levels and risk of possible collision with the turbines. There may also be additional pollution and containments from seabed sediments, where bottom-dwelling organisms live.
  • Onshore windfarms: Onshore windfarms can cause devastation to bird and bat populations because of the risk of collision with the blades. There is also the additional risk of habitat loss and displacement, pollution, and species avoidance, with possibility of avoidance from local wildlife.
  • Solar farms: solar farms require a great deal of land, with large installations requiring anything from ten to a hundred acres. This can lead to habitat destruction and animal displacement. There is also a threat from hazardous materials, and the possibility of soil and air pollution.

Can we achieve clean energy without harming our delicate ecosystems?

Despite the unfavourable facts and predictions, there has been a great deal of academic and industrial research that looks at the impact of renewable energy sites on the natural environment. This research seeks to find ways that adverse and detrimental harm can be avoided, for example:

  • In India, research was conducted to understand how birds and mammals are impacted by the installation of wind farms. This research sought to find a way to include the help of windfarm operators to manage the impact and prevent harm as much as possible.
  • The Solar Trade Association in the UK wrote a report that summarised how solar farms can improve biodiversity as long as they are combined with a suitable land management plan.
  • There has also been a development with innovative clean tech solutions for renewable energy that have positive impact on biodiversity. Some of these include hydro turbines that are marine-life friendly and pollinator friendly solar projects that are designed to accommodate important grasses and wildflowers beneath their panels.

Supporting the increased focus on biodiversity is the introduction of planning guidelines that require developers to be aware of the impacts of their renewable energy sites.

While the world may be transitioning away from its dependency on fossil fuels, which is a desperate necessity, it is recognised that this shift may have negative impacts on the habitats and species that we need to survive.

 

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The services of an ecological consultant may be of massive benefit to you if you are planning a clean energy development. Not only can a professional consultant help you protect and preserve the biodiversity of an area, but they can also help you ensure your site achieves its commercial aims. Call Engain on 01225 459564 or email enquiries@engain.com for a free initial consultation.

https://www.engain.com/

 

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