A Freedom of Information Request has forced Government to publish a report on the risks of fracking to rural communities, economies and the environment. The report is a draft literature review, and a covering note emphasises that it is incomplete and doesn’t take the UK regulatory context into account.
Nonetheless, some of the report’s findings, based in part on empirical evidence from the existing shale gas industry in the US, are interesting.
Crucially the report finds that the impacts on ecosystems and water sources are ‘uncertain’.
It also notes that fracking could result in fossil fuels currently being burned in the UK being displaced and burned elsewhere. This risks a global increase in emissions, making climate change worse.
Given that it isn’t clear how a growing fracking industry can be compatible with the need to keep emissions and climate change within globally safe limits, and that it could put nature at risk, the RSPB does not support fracking and would rather see money invested in renewable energy technologies that deliver genuine emissions reductions.
Much like the ‘Are we fit to frack?’ reports that RSPB helped to publish last year, this document draws on existing evidence from the US shale industry and finds that there could be risks to the natural environment.
If the industry is to expand, then any sensible Government will take the uncertainty over risks to the natural environment seriously. They should err on the side of caution and introduce further strict regulations to protect nature and wildlife.
The ‘Are we fit to frack?’ reports lay out a number of recommendations for stronger regulation, including ruling out fracking within or beneath protected areas. We’d like to see all ten of these recommendations fully adopted before we could be convinced that fracking could be safe in the short term, and that would still not deal with our concerns about the risks to the climate.
Earlier this week, thousands of people gathered in London from across the UK to speak to their politicians about climate change, urging them to take strong action to protect the things that we love. The ‘Speak Up for The Love Of’ lobby of parliament was the biggest ever lobby of Parliament, with some 330 MPs listening to their constituents explain why climate change matters to them and discussing actions government should take.
Towards the end of the day, business leaders came together to urge the new Government to provide investors with certainty about the UK’s transition to a low carbon future. Amber Rudd, the new energy and climate change secretary, spoke with conviction about tackling climate change.
Shortly after this event, however, DECC announced that public subsidies for onshore wind farms through the Renewables Obligation will be stopped a year earlier than expected.
We fear this will make it harder for the UK to tackle climate change and protect nature. Unless we decarbonise UK and global energy supplies, there is a real risk climate change will become a major driver of extinctions for birds and all species, with dire consequences for nature and society.
A nature-friendly carbon-free future requires a wide mix of renewable energy sources. Without sustained investment in well-located onshore wind it will become more challenging to realise the long term ambition we share with governments.
For the transition to low carbon energy to enjoy public support, costs have to be kept down and impacts on the environment have to be minimised.
Onshore wind power has a big contribution to make. It is one of the most cost-effective renewable energy technologies and has made a significant contribution to reducing the UK’s greenhouse gas emissions, providing clean, low carbon energy.
The RSPB will continue to fight renewable energy projects when they are sited in the wrong locations and threaten our most important places for wildlife. See for example our current fight to protect the Flow Country peatlands of Sutherland from SSE’s proposed Strathy South windfarm. However, when wind farms are sited sensibly and managed appropriately, they do not pose a conservation threat to birds or other wildlife.
We want to see a transition to a low carbon economy that takes place in harmony with nature. But this low carbon transition may not happen at all without clear and consistent policy support. As business leaders highlighted at the Westminster climate lobby, businesses and investors require long-term certainty to make decisions.
Climate change is the greatest long-term threat to wildlife around the world. That’s why we want to see the UK pursuing ambitious targets and effective support schemes for renewable energy deployment, including for onshore wind.
Guest blog by Jim Densham, Senior Land Use Policy Officer (Climate), RSPB Scotland
Today, three RSPB Scotland colleagues and I will set off from the Scottish Parliament in Edinburgh on a 520mile cycle ride to London. We have named ourselves Team Sky-lark (i.e. NOT team Sky). Riding to London feels like a pretty crazy undertaking right now as there are less than 2 weeks to go, I haven’t done enough training rides and I have a streaming cold. It certainly won’t be easy but hopefully with a group it will be fun, and rewarding when we arrive six and a half days later on the 17th June.
So quite how we get there and how painful it will be is unknown but at least the reasons why are clear: