March, 2013

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.
  • Eurocrats save the World? – EC gets ball rolling

    John Lanchbery, Principal Climate Change Advisor

    We are not on course to save the world from climate change.  Emissions are not heading downwards so as to ensure an average global temperature rise of less than two degrees, the target agreed by all nations.  Instead they are surging upwards towards a likely rise in temperature of between three and five degrees.  This is bad news for people and bad news for the natural world; each one degree rise in temperature is likely to result in the loss of about one tenth of all species.

    It is no longer just scientists and the environment groups that are warning of such dire consequences.  The assessments above come from institutions not best known for their radical stance on environmental issues: the World Bank, the International Energy Agency, the United Nations and the European Commission.

    In Durban, at the end of 2011,  all of the 195 nations of the UN climate change treaty noted ‘with grave concern the significant gap between countries pledges in terms of emissions [reductions] and emission pathways consistent with a likely chance of holding the increase in global average temperature below 2 °C or 1.5 °C’.  The UN Environmental Programme puts this ‘significant gap’ at between 8,000,000,000 and 13,000,000,000 tonnes of carbon dioxide - or about twice all emissions from the European Union. It’s a very large gap.

    The threat of climate change is thus recognised by almost all of those in a position to do something about it.  The problem is that not much is actually being done to address the emissions gap. 

    So full marks to the European Commission for getting the ball rolling this week.

    Yesterday the Commission launched its consultation on shaping international climate policy beyond 2020, as well as before 2020.  Today the Commission launched its green paper A 2030 framework for climate and energy policies.  After discussions with the European Parliament and governments of member states, this paper will form the basis for much of the EU’s climate and energy policy after 2020.  It is very important, not just for EU climate change policy but, hopefully, for showing leadership on tackling climate change to the wider world.

    The Commission’s analysis and views about what needs to be done internationally have much in common with those of many environmental groups. However, its views on what actions the EU itself should take after 2020 fall a long way short of what is needed.  It’s as if the Commission had not read its own analysis of the science in the international paper.  The upshot is that this year and next will see heated debates in Europe about whether to extend the current system of mandatory targets on renewable energy beyond 2020, and whether to make energy efficiency targets binding.

    Long term trend in global CO2 emissions (Netherlands EPA / JRC EU)

    At the launch of the Green Paper, Energy Commissioner Gunther Oettinger, said we should wait to see if the recently introduced, non-binding, Energy Efficiency Directive has the desired effect. We hope that it will, but experience suggests sufficient action will not be taken in many countries unless it is made a requirement.

    On binding targets for renewables, some countries such as the UK appear to favour a ‘technology neutral’ approach to energy, meaning climate targets would be met in whichever way member states choose.  However we will be calling for ambitious and binding targets for renewables, in recognition that they are the only basis on which to build a truly sustainable future energy system.  Only by requiring development and deployment of innovative renewables technologies will we be able to drive down their costs to a point where clean, sustainable energy is the natural option.

  • Smart measuring

    Sarah Alsbury, RSPB Environmental Management manager

    Buildings, or more accurately what goes on inside them, are responsible globally for close to half of human produced greenhouse gas emissions.  Although buildings could be seen as half the problem we should not feel disheartened, as there are many readily available solutions for quickly reducing emissions from buildings. Cost effective measures include heating controls, insulation, efficient lighting and appliances that implemented would reduce emissions from buildings by 40% and that is before switching to clean energy sources. 

    Climate change is already affecting birds and other wildlife in the UK and the Climate Change Act has legislative targets for reducing carbon pollution.  So the RSPB has adopted an equivalent target for our own emissions – a 30% reduction between 2010 and 2020. Energy conservation, alongside renewables, is essential  for us to achieve this target – and it’s the most cost-effective measure. We are keen to improve our understanding of how our buildings are working and our monitoring of energy consumption. As with habitat management, good monitoring data underpins successful energy conservation.  

    Pilio, a new spinout company from the University of Oxford’s Environmental Change Institute, is helping us understand the energy consumption patterns of our buildings. This knowledge makes it easier to identify energy saving opportunities, to evaluate the success of energy saving actions we take and to monitor our progress in reducing carbon emissions. Pilio prepared an energy audit report of our Lodge headquarters, using half-hourly data from smart  meters,  sent digitally, to compile  a high-resolution profile of our buildings’ energy use. Pilio’s analysis identified some high electricity loads and patterns, which we are now investigating. We are installing smart meters at our larger sites so that we can extend this process.

    We’ve also been trialling a Peer Group account in sMeasure (, Pilio’s online building energy management software. This lets us bring together energy consumption data across all the sites, comparing and ranking the energy efficiency of our buildings. sMeasure shows us how each building is performing against the weather conditions, enabling us to quickly spot if heating controls are well set or if there might be problems with a boiler. The Pilio team prepared a review on the results from two buildings to demonstrate how we can use the information coming through sMeasure to improve our energy management.

    We are at the beginning of a journey to understand and manage the energy consumed across our nature reserve and office buildings. It is a process of learning and doing, which we want to share with our members, visitors and staff to encourage them to take energy saving steps at home. These combined efforts to reduce the emissions from our buildings will contribute towards the energy transformation necessary for environmental protection.

    And it'd be great to hear from others who are also working to make their buildings greener


  • Making waves on the energy scene

    Helen Blenkharn, RSPB Climate Change Policy Officer

    Last week we posted a blog on our concerns about proposals for a Severn Barrage that are being discussed by a Government committee. The project would involve a shore-to-shore barrage across the Severn Estuary, with potentially catastrophic consequences for the world-class habitats and wildlife that exist there. Barrages such as this are an engineering feat on a huge scale, and their impacts can extend far beyond their immediate location and for many years after they’ve been built.

    What isn’t always clear though, is that the RSPB supports the development of wave and tidal technologies. However, we’d like to see a balanced, step-by-step approach that allows new systems to be tested and monitored, rather than leaping into a project on such a huge scale that it excludes all other options. In the longer term, we think taking this phased approach will mean we can deliver more renewable energy without unacceptable impacts on wildlife.

    A barrage isn’t the only way to harness the renewable energy potential of the Severn, or other estuaries around the UK for that matter, and there are a range of more innovative, and potentially less damaging, technologies that need to be considered. For example, tidal lagoons use the same technology but apply them in an arc from a single point on the coastline. If sited appropriately this approach could have far fewer impacts than a barrage – they’re likely to affect the tidal patterns over a smaller area and should be less of a barrier to fish. They’re also smaller in scale so should have less impact on intertidal habitats like mudflats.

    There are a range of new wave and tidal devices under development, like Pelamis below which uses the motion of waves to generate electricity. Tidal stream devices are currently dominated by machinery similar to wind turbines but positioned beneath the water. They use the energy in the tides to turn the turbines and can be arranged together in a ‘tidal fence’. You can read a good introduction to the different technologies that are currently under development in a report that RegenSW and partners produced for the Bristol Channel last year.

    Pelamis wave device at the European Marine Energy Centre in Orkney (copyright free)

    However, it isn’t all plain sailing. The wave and tidal industry has two big problems and they’re closely linked. One is that it’s incredibly expensive to develop new technologies and roll them out on a commercial scale. They need willing investors, and that’s the second problem - lack of certainty about Government support for different renewable technologies means that investors are very hard to come by. Even if they manage to overcome both of these hurdles there’s still the difficulty of getting access to the electricity grid which can need expensive new infrastructure.

    Yet the picture isn’t all doom and gloom. Over the last few weeks and months a number of big announcements suggest that the tide may be turning. Last year the Government announced the launch of two ‘marine energy parks’, one in the south west in Cornwall, and the other in the Pentland Firth and Orkney Waters in the north of Scotland. These areas have shown leadership in driving forward the development of wave and tidal technologies and both have new research and testing facilities, including  The Wave Hub in Hayle and  the European Marine Energy Centre in Orkney, which has just been granted £4.1million from the Scottish Government to boost their research.

    New funding is also coming on stream. Last week the UK Government announced new funding to help drive forward growth in the UK’s marine energy industry. Two British companies, MeyGen Ltd and Sea Generation Wales Ltd were offered a share of £20 million under the Marine Energy Array Demonstrator scheme. They’ll use the money to test marine devices in arrays out at sea. And the Crown Estate has invited applications for a share of another £20 million to support the construction of projects involving several devices in an array.

    In the UK we have a wealth of wave and tidal resources, and some of the best researchers in the world. It a no-brainer that we should support this developing industry and seek to establish the UK as a world leader.

    Do you think the Government should be doing more to help new wave and tidal technologies get off the ground and ino the water?