December, 2012

Our work

Our work
You might be surprised to read that our work is far broader than nature reserves and Big Garden Birdwatch. Read more about what else we do.

Climate change

News and views from the RSPB on climate change and what you can do about it.
  • A stocking-filler on biomass

    If you've been following this blog you'll know that we are very concerned about what a switch to wood-fired power stations would mean for the world's forests and for our climate

    In fact, we were one of the first organisations in the UK to ring the alarm bell on this issue. In autumn 2011 we published a review of industry plans and worked out that 39 new 'biomass' power stations, which would mostly be fuelled by imported wood, were in development across the country.

    Our conclusion was that government needed to act quickly to restrict subsidies for wood-fuelled electricity.

    Since then, many others have realised the threat posed by these power stations. The climate change committee, for example, advised that 'there should be limited if any support for new large-scale dedicated biomass generation'. And the Scottish Executive moved to restrict the size of wood fired power stations.

    This week the UK government has followed suite and announced a cap on subsidies that should restrict the sector to 400MW. When we reviewed actual applications for these kind of power plants last year we found ten times this much in development!

    This announcement is therefore welcome news, and the world's forests will be breathing more easily as a result, but we need the government to go much further.

    Firstly, the cap needs to be set in stone by introducing it in the forthcoming energy bill, along with a restriction on the size of plants based on the Scottish proposal.

    Secondly, we need a cap on the use of wood in power stations full stop. A recent report we published in collaboration with Greenpeace and Friends of the Earth UK showed that the use of woody biomass can be Dirtier than Coal, resulting in increased emissions over the short and medium term.

  • The barrage of Severn barrage plans continues

    Helen Blenkharn, Climate Change Policy Officer

    It’s back again!

    The Severn Barrage, which has been proposed by countless developers since the end of the 10th century, is back on the cards, with a new proposal for a £25bn scheme from Hafren Power. The proposal is on the front page of today’s FT and the Energy and Climate Change Committee is holding an inquiry into the scheme.

       There's been a long line of Severn barrage proposals - this one from 1849

    I know what you’re thinking - surely the Government’s own multi-million pound feasibility project has only just finished, how can we already be dealing with another proposal?!

    This feasibility project concluded, after all, that the project was too expensive, and would cause the loss of up to 1/3rd of the entire intertidal habitat in the area. It would reduce the populations of up to 30 bird species, and severely affect fish populations with local extinctions and population collapses. And the Severn is an important place for nature, recognised through a host of site designations.

    Hafren Power is, however, suggesting that its scheme would not be as damaging. We hope they’re right, because ultimately we would like to see the massive renewable energy resource in the Severn exploited, so long as it is done in harmony with the natural environment. That’s why we will approach these plans with an open mind. However, we are deeply sceptical, as this is just the latest in a long line of barrage proposals; and each time they have fallen partly because of cost and complexity but also because of the huge potential impacts on wildlife and flood risk.

    One of the other key findings of Government’s own feasibility project was that there are a range of promising innovative renewable energy technologies that could be used in the Severn with potentially smaller environmental impacts. Ideas about how to harness power from the Severn while reducing risks to the environment and to other uses of the estuary have since continued to develop.  A partnership of organisations in the South West recently published this report for a multi-technology approach – but they need more support.

    So perhaps it’s time to put our collective effort behind these innovative solutions, rather than wasting more time and effort on yet another barrage proposal. How do you think we should harness the power of the Severn and its estuary?

  • Update from Doha

    John Lanchbery, at the UNFCCC conference

    Two days to go at the global climate negotiations in Doha and the sun continues to shine outside, although not much light percolates through to the negotiations.  Ministers have arrived now and with them have come the journalists; I am sitting next to John Vidal from the Guardian and may ask him to proof read this blog.  Roger Harabin from the BBC has just arrived next to John, Geoffrey Lean from the Telegraph is lurking down the corridor and the Al Jazeera folk are everywhere.

    We have been having meetings with ministers as they arrive, starting with UK minister Ed Davey and EU Commissioner Connie Hedegaard earlier in the week and, most recently, with Minister Xie from China last night.  (Good sense of humour and answers questions fully so he would probably not make a good western politician.)

      Photo: UNFCCC

    The main task of this COP is to wrap up two older negotiating tracks and begin a new one in which to negotiate what we hope will be a bigger and better treaty by 2015, and which will come into operation in 2020.  However, if we are to keep global temperature rise at anywhere near tolerable levels, we need bigger cuts in emissions now, not after 2020.  The key to success is thus ‘short term ambition’ in both reducing emissions and supplying money for adaptation to the climate change that will inevitably occur as a result of our previous and current emissions.  There is not much evidence of this ambition so far although the UK, Germany and Denmark have chipped in sizeable chunks of money this week.

     As a consequence of many meetings with ministers, an increasingly clear picture of a final deal is emerging although there remain murky areas and things could still go horribly wrong.  I am pretty sure that there will be much that we will not like in the likely deal although some issues are going fairly well, including cutting emissions from deforestation,  but even there much work  will be kicked forward to next year.

    This was always going to a process oriented COP to implement the deal done in Durban last year ,so we were not expecting spectacular results. But we are concerned that much good stuff will be swept under the carpet as the furniture in the room is moved around.  It looks as though the talks will run late into Friday night or, more probably, Saturday.