· RSPB Scotland strongly supports renewable energy, as climate change is one of the biggest threats to nature, but developments can harm wildlife if poorly located and planned
· New research by the RSPB shows that the UK's 2050 climate targets can be achieved using high levels of renewable energy, with low risk for wildlife and protected areas
· The RSPB have found that the UK has the potential to deliver up to four times its current energy consumption from renewable sources, if a strategic approach to planning is taken to avoid important species and habitats
· The report, 'The RSPB's 2050 Energy Vision', outlines three energy scenarios that meet climate targets in harmony with nature. In addition to high levels of renewable energy, the scenarios demonstrate the importance of demand reduction and energy storage.
Europe's largest conservation charity, the RSPB, has launched a new report showing how the UK could transform its energy system and meet its 2050 climate targets in harmony with nature. 'The RSPB's 2050 Energy Vision' shows for the first time how renewable technologies could meet the majority of UK's energy needs whilst avoiding harm to important species and habitats.
Climate change is recognised as the single greatest threat to people and nature globally. Scotland's target is to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions by 80% by 2050, and decarbonising our energy supply is a major part of this challenge.
RSPB Scotland strongly supports well-sited renewable energy. However, developments can harm wildlife and damage habitats if poorly located or planned - for example through bird collision with wind turbines. The charity spends considerable time engaging with planning applications to ensure that sensitive areas are avoided, and the organisation robustly fights developments with unacceptably high impacts.
This research was carried out by RSPB scientists who developed pioneering mapping approaches to assess where renewable energy technologies including onshore wind, solar, bioenergy, offshore wind, wave and tidal energy could be located to avoid sensitive wildlife areas, taking account of other planning constraints such as infrastructure and land needed for food production. Results show that the UK could generate up to four times its current total energy demand from renewable sources - but this is dependent on a strategic approach to energy planning, where projects are located to maximise generation at the lowest cost to nature.
Whilst a large proportion of this potential is for offshore renewables in deeper waters, using wave and floating wind technologies which will take time to develop, the research also identified considerable areas available for established onshore renewables. Results found that Scotland could increase its onshore wind capacity by three times, and its solar capacity by thirty times.
However, the charity says that further investment in monitoring of wildlife distributions and sensitivities, especially in the marine environment, along with a strategic use of spatial planning, is essential to ensure future developments are located appropriately and our finest wildlife areas safeguarded.
This research enabled the RSPB to develop three 2050 scenarios to meet energy needs with low risk for wildlife. The scenarios include a range of renewables alongside energy storage, interconnection with other countries, and smart grid networks which will enable better matching of energy supply and demand. They assume demand for energy will be reduced by a third, meaning Government support is required to ramp up measures like home insulation. Based on these findings, RSPB Scotland has set out 10 recommendations for the Scottish Government to decarbonise energy in harmony with nature.
Stuart Housden, Director of RSPB Scotland said: "Our research shows that a low carbon energy future in harmony with nature is possible, and we have set out a positive vision for how this can be done without harming Scotland's special places for wildlife.
"It's critical that we work together now to make this happen. Climate change is one of the single biggest threats to people and nature alike, but with Scotland's nature in decline, we have a responsibility to invest in an energy system that works for both people and our natural heritage. The Government has a key role in developing a strategic approach to spatial planning to guide the right developments to the right places.
"We have shown that this can be achieved affordably and securely, and are committed to continuing to work with responsible developers and decision-makers to help achieve our vision."
The report, 'The RSPB's 2050 Energy Vision', is available on the RSPB's website rspb.org.uk/energyfutures
Both Scotland and the UK's climate target is an 80% emissions reduction (against 1990 levels) by 2050.
RSPB Scotland has assessed over 1,300 wind energy projects for their impacts on birds and wildlife and objected to approximately 10% of those assessed because of the damage they would cause.
The Scottish Government set out plans in its manifesto to develop a new 'Scottish Energy Strategy', which is likely to include a commitment to source 50% of Scotland's energy from renewable sources by 2030.
RSPB Scotland's 10 recommendations for achieving low carbon energy in harmony with nature in Scotland are:
1. Set the ambition: 50% renewable energy by 2030
2. Use a plan-led approach to help identify suitable sites and minimise conflicts
3. Develop a roadmap for decarbonisation in harmony with nature
4. Eliminate energy waste, including measures to improve energy performance of buildings
5. Invest in understanding the impacts of different technologies on wildlife, to help developers progress schemes in the right places, and to ensure they can enhance nature wherever possible
6. Invest in innovation to unlock low carbon technologies such as energy storage and floating wind turbines
7. Transform low carbon heat and transport: set targets for renewable heat and zero emissions vehicles
8. Make economic incentives work for nature and the climate, including support for well-sited onshore wind and solar energy
9. Set robust standards to ensure bioenergy benefits, rather than harms wildlife
10. Support a grid network that accommodates high levels of renewable energy