The UK Government has just announced that it is to ban fracking at the surface in protected areas in both England and Wales. This ban will apply to any new and to all existing onshore petroleum licences. The official Government response to a consultation they ran last year can be found here.
The RSPB has been working with NGO partners to call for these protections for vulnerable sites, wildlife and landscapes for some time now. We'd like to say a particular thank you to all the campaigners who signed an eaction asking Amber Rudd to rule out fracking in these areas. Your support helped us achieve today's victory.
We welcome this measure as an important step in safeguarding wildlife from the risks of fracking.
Two years ago, with a coalition of other NGOs, we launched two reports examining the potential risks of fracking in the UK and setting out ten recommendations for improvements to the regulatory regime around fracking. Such a ban was one of our key recommendations and we are pleased to see the UK Government take the sensible step of introducing it. While today's announcement is a step in the right direction, it does not, in our view, go far enough and other improvements to the regulatory regime are needed.
Alongside the regulatory improvements we called for, we also asked to see a compelling case that fracking could be compatible with the UK's carbon budgets and other climate change commitments. We hope that Government will publish as soon as possible a report they have already received from the Committee on Climate Change on the compatibility of fracking and carbon budgets. In the wake of the landmark agreement in Paris last December, and ambitions to limit temperature rises to 1.5 degrees at most, it is more important than ever that we understand whether fracking is compatible with these commitments and the UK's contribution to them.
In Scotland there continues to be a moratorium on fracking and in Northern Ireland a planning presumption against it, and we will continue to monitor those situations and provide any updates on them.
In collaboration with our other Fit to Frack coalition partners, we will soon be publishing a blog reviewing progress against our ten recommendations, so keep an eye out for that on this blog in the next few weeks.
This post was written by Dr Olly Watts, Senior Climate Change Policy Officer
Telescopes and binoculars from fifteen European BirdLife partner organisations were trained on two lammergeiers, or bearded vultures, roosting high on the cliff face of a quiet Alpine valley as dusk fell. We’d come to Gran Paradiso National Park, Italy to make headway in building climate change adaptation into our nature conservation activities across Europe.
Learning about the severity and speed of climate change was sobering to many participants – we have just 17 years at current greenhouse gas pollution levels before we exceed the carbon budget likely to keep us below the 2°C warming threshold. As our own report showed last December, wildlife across Europe is already being affected by climate change. This gathering focused on the positives, the things we can do, and that are being done, to meet the challenge of climate change for nature and for people.
That intertwining, of doing things for nature and at the same time for people, came out strongly in a series of case studies of current action. We learned about adaptation with agriculture in Turkey, with improved flood control along rivers in Belgium, across a mosaic of Mediterranean landscapes in Italy, with wetlands in Slovakia, and on nature reserves across the UK.
A field excursion showed us how rare ibex are faring with climate change, with long-term research by the University of Pavia. Populations initially benefitted from warmer winters, but more recently have fallen because the rich flush of meadow grass is arriving earlier in the season, and the young are now born after it has passed its best. Added to this, hotter summers are causing ibex to move higher in the mountains, where grazing is poorer.
From discussions and ideas hatched at the workshop, we’re planning to develop a small number of large scale adaptation projects involving several partners. We’re aiming to improve our knowledge about how species may use Important Bird Areas across Europe in the future, so we can plan for the species distribution shifts that are already starting to happen. And we’ll continue to learn from each other, across our continent, and work together and in partnerships to develop adaptation as it becomes an increasingly necessary part of the way we do things.
From the small specks of two rather large birds high in the mountains, to partnerships developing adaptation activities across thousands of hectares across Europe for birds and for people. A reminder that our national boundaries are irrelevant to birds and our work often has to transcend them – likely increasingly so as climate change shifts species distribution across countries, even continents.
That this was a very positive meeting even in the face of considerable challenges shows that working together, building relationships and partnerships through our BirdLife partners across Europe, really helps wildlife, people and our environment.
On Monday 6th June, the Energy Ministers of Belgium, Denmark, France, Germany, Ireland, the Netherlands, Luxembourg, Sweden and Norway signed a “Political Declaration on Energy Cooperation between the North Seas Countries”. The UK was notably absent from the declaration signing, which we understand is due to statutory restrictions on government activity in the UK in the run-up to the EU referendum on 23 June. However, the initiative remains open to the participation of all countries with an interest in the North Sea. As a member of the Renewables Grid Initiative (RGI) we welcome the initiative, and urge the UK government to sign the declaration at the soonest opportunity.
In 2008, the UK Government set a target to achieve an 80% reduction in greenhouse gas emissions (relative to 1990 levels) by 2050. We consider it imperative that we meet this target in order to mitigate the impact of climate change on wildlife. Our recent report The RSPB’s 2050 Energy Vision: Meeting the UK’s climate targets in harmony with nature shows that there is vast potential for development of marine energy in deeper water around the UK and that it could contribute significantly to us meeting our target. But for this to happen, big strides forward are needed. In our report we call for the UK government to invest in innovation to unlock low carbon technologies such as floating offshore wind. At the same time, we call for increased understanding of our marine wildlife to ensure deployment, including development of grid infrastructure, is truly sustainable - in harmony with nature as well as contributing to carbon reductions.
The objective of the political declaration is “to facilitate the further cost-effective deployment of offshore renewable energy, in particular wind...with the aim of ensuring a sustainable, secure and affordable energy supply in the North Seas countries”. Time and again, across numerous environmental issues, we have seen that cooperation between countries brings the greatest gain for all. The UK’s involvement in this initiative would be extremely valuable for successfully maximising the potential of offshore renewables for the UK whilst ensuring minimum environmental impact throughout the North Sea.
Having published our 2050 Energy Vision to stimulate much needed discussion and action, we are pleased to see that the political declaration recognises the importance of keeping an open dialogue with all stakeholders. We hope that the UK will engage with the initiative and that we will be able to take part in a strong and constructive involvement of civil society in the development and implementation of the initiative’s work programme. Together we can encourage deployment of renewable electricity for the benefit of future wildlife, whilst protecting the rich biodiversity of the North Sea.