By Pip Roddis, Policy Officer.
If any of you have been following RSPB’s blogs over the past few months (for example, see here and here), you will know that we’ve been undertaking a major piece of research on renewable energy and the potential risks for wildlife in the UK’s low carbon transition. We’re very pleased to say that we will be publishing our research next week in a report called ‘The RSPB’s 2050 Energy Vision: Meeting the UK’s climate targets in harmony with nature’.
We don’t want to give too much away before the big day (Tuesday 24th May), but look out for the report on Twitter using #power4nature. We will be putting forward a positive vision for the UK’s energy future, and we hope that this will act as a catalyst for a debate about how the UK can deliver its important 2050 climate change targets securely, affordably and in harmony with nature.
We look forward to sharing more with you next week.
I returned yesterday from a meeting at the European Commission on bioenergy. The discussion was about new sustainability criteria that would apply to all bioenergy across the EU from 2020 onwards. Bioenergy currently makes up around 2/3 of all the renewable energy used in the EU, and in the UK it's even higher at 72%.
Only a few member states have sustainability criteria right now, including the UK. But the new criteria would apply to all member states. These criteria are badly needed, since the existing use of biomass for transport, heat and energy has led to severe impacts on biodiversity, has sometimes failed to deliver emissions reductions, in some cases potentially even resulted in increases in emissions.
These problems have arisen because many policy makers have assumed that bioenergy is carbon neutral. They have based this assumption on the misconception that the emissions will be fully accounted for in the land sector and therefore don't need to be accounted for in the energy sector. This is flawed because the rules for accounting emissions in the land use sector contain numerous loopholes. In effect this results in many emissions 'going missing', and never being counted.
Yesterday's stakeholder conference brought together over 100 representatives, mostly from the bioenergy industry. The meeting was opened with the news that in the recent consultation on this issue 57,000 US citizens had submitted messages asking for European policies to stop the destruction of US forests for bioenergy. A few NGOs were present in the room as well as some policy makers. There was a clear divide between many of the industry and policy makers' views and the concerns expressed by NGOs, including myself.
Many feel that we can deal with the risks posed by bioenergy through weak sustainability criteria and through the land use emissions accounting rules. These accounting rules, in their current form, will do little to deal with the emissions generated when biomass is burned. It's also important to note that in many cases burning biomass, particularly whole trees, can be more polluting than the fossil fuels it replaces, simply because wood is less energy dense per unit weight than coal. And this effect can last many decades or longer as the trees slowly regrow.
Instead of the proposals put forward yesterday, many NGOs, including RSPB, are calling for:
- Full carbon accounting in the energy sector, including biogenic emissions
- Robust safeguards for the natural environment
- The optimum use of limited bioenergy resources
- A cap on the overall amount of bioenergy used in line with available, sustainable supply.
We consider that there are some sustainable kinds of biomass that are genuinely sustainable and truly deliver emissions reductions. In particular the use of combined heat and power or heat only power plants that are very efficient, and the use of genuine wastes and residues, very limited use of energy crops and arisings from nature conservation such as of UK woodlands.
We hope that, when it proposes its new legislation on biomass later this year, the European Commission will take these views from NGOs clearly into account.
By Alice Collier, Policy Officer
You may have seen an RSPB news article earlier in the year about the imminent construction of a wind turbine at the RSPB’s headquarters in Sandy, in partnership with Ecotricity. Well, the turbine is now up and running!
I’m new to the team and working here at The Lodge it’s really great to know that our electricity needs are being met by renewable energy. In fact, the 100 metre tall wind turbine will generate around two million units of green energy every year, equivalent to over half of the electricity the RSPB uses across its 127 UK locations.
The Lodge turbine in action
Having the turbine up and running is very exciting for our team because of what it stands for - renewable energy in harmony with nature.
Climate change poses the single biggest long-term threat to birds and wildlife. Our latest report on climate change shows that impacts on birds and other wildlife in the UK are already starting to occur, and research involving RSPB scientists published in March shows that similar impacts are affecting species in the United States and across Europe.
Transitioning to 100% clean electricity is vital to solving the problem of climate change, and we believe in backing our words with actions. The Lodge turbine is part of the RSPB’s efforts to align reduction of the organisations carbon emissions with the Climate Change Act 2008, which includes a legal duty for 80% reduction of greenhouse gas emission by 2050. It is expected to reduce carbon emissions by up to 600 tonnes every year – another step in helping to protect nature for future generations.
Although we need to deploy high levels of renewable energy to combat climate change, it is important that we do so with local, not just global, wildlife in mind. The location of renewable energy projects should always be carefully considered, and based on solid evidence of the potential impacts on wildlife. That’s why the RSPB undertook three years of detailed ecological and environmental research to confirm that Sandy Ridge was a suitable site for a wind turbine. Additionally, bat detectors have been installed in the turbine so that it will not operate at wind speeds, and during times of the day and year that bats are more likely to be active around the turbine.
Later this month, we will be publishing a report showing how the UK can transition to renewable energy and meet its 2050 climate targets in harmony with nature. We hope that it will provoke discussion and action around this critical issue. It’s a big challenge, but one that we think this country can meet.