April, 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.
  • Help us to protect wildlife, climate and jobs

    Today a coalition of green groups and businesses, including the RSPB, has written to the Secretaries of State for Business and for Energy and Climate Change, Vince Cable and Ed Davey.

    We are calling on them to protect the wildlife, climate and jobs that are threatened by the rapid expansion of bioenergy based on burning trees. We want them to act to limit the size of the biomass industry to sustainable levels.

    You can help as well. Please write to your MP today and call on them to support only sustainable biomass.

    Here is the letter we have sent:

    We believe that Government needs to act quickly to limit support for large-scale electricity-only biomass, both to protect our climate and environment, as well as the many British businesses that depend on affordable sources of wood, pulp and other forms of biomass.

    Current plans to subsidise biomass electricity could see the sector consuming the equivalent of six times the UK’s annual forestry harvest by 2017.  These plans threaten to increase our greenhouse gas emissions, and this increased pressure on a scarce and valuable natural resource will threaten the survival of existing industries – in wood, wood panels, packaging, construction, furniture and paper.

    Over 40,000 jobs rely on these industries and many of these would be at risk thanks to the reckless pursuit of biomass electricity. 8,400 people rely on jobs in the wood panel industry. The sawmilling industry, which supports a further 12,000 jobs, could be jeopardised. In addition the paper industry in the UK represents at least 25,000 direct employees and, it is estimated, up to 100,000 indirect employees.

    A growing body of evidence highlights the carbon debt created when a tree is harvested and burned. This debt can take between decades and centuries to repay as trees re-grow, meaning that this kind of energy fails to reduce greenhouse gas emissions in the medium term; however, current calculations of the emissions from biomass electricity ignore this and the biomass industry does not have to count them when it receives subsidies. [You can read more about this in RSPB, Friends of the Earth & Greenpeace report, 'Dirtier than Coal: Why Government plans to subsidise the burning of trees are bad news for the planet, 2012'.]

    Whilst bioenergy releases the carbon stored in wood into the atmosphere, the use of wood for products such as construction timber, packaging, fencing, wood panels and furniture plays an important role by locking that carbon up for very long periods, often well in excess of 60 years after harvesting, quite apart from extended carbon storage when wood fibre is recycled and re-used. A Forest Research report commissioned by the Department of Energy and Climate Change clearly concludes that using woody biomass for energy-only consistently performs worse from a carbon point of view than more traditional uses. When using forest biomass the underlying principle should be to maximise the beneficial use of this renewable but ultimately limited resource and to apply a cascading approach to resource use wherever possible and appropriate.  

    Bioenergy has an important role to play in the UK’s renewable energy strategy, but not through the use of wood (except genuine wastes) for electricity alone (as opposed to more efficient, good quality combined heat and power). It is clear that burning wood for electricity alone fails to provide the emission savings it is designed for while putting at risk other industries which perform far better from a carbon point of view. As such, we are calling on Government to use the UK Energy Bill to reflect environmental realities and to limit the scope of biomass in the energy sector and ultimately to put sustainability at the heart of the policy framework for biomass.

    Mike Clarke, Executive Director, RSPB
    John Sauven, Executive Director, Greenpeace
    Andy Atkins, Chief Executive, Friends of the Earth
    David Sulman, Executive Director, UK Forest Products Association
    David Workman, Director General, Confederation of Paper Industries
    Bob Livesey, Joint Managing Director, Egger
    Karl Morris, Managing Director, Norbord
    Mike McKenna, Director, Kronospan
    Alistair Kerr, Director General, Wood Panel Industries Federation
    John Dye, President, TIMCON
    Hamish Macleod, Director of Public Affairs, BSW Timber
    John White, CEO, Timber Trade Federation
    Paul von der Heyde, Chairman, British Furniture Confederation
    Jackie Bazeley, Managing Director, British Furniture Manufacturers
    Michael Powell, Chairman, FIRA, Furniture Industry Research Association

    Please do help by writing to your MPs and calling on them to support only sustainable biomass today if you can.

  • What’s more unstable - our climate or the economy?

    We all know that we  can’t afford to burn all of our  fossil fuel reserves if we’re to stay within the ‘safe’ climate change of around 2°C average global temperature rise, but a new report last week has revealed just how big the mismatch is between economic and environmental systems.

    The new report estimates that burning the coal, oil and gas reserves listed on the world’s stock exchanges would release 762GtCO2 – and this represents only a quarter of the world’s total reserves! Yet we can only burn  between 16% to 30% of these ‘assets’ if we are to retain a safe climate.  Carbon Tracker calls this mismatch a ‘Six Trillion Dollar carbon bubble’.

    Meanwhile an EU report has put the annual cost of extreme weather at €100 billion by 2020, and 250 billion Euros by 2050. Worse, they warn that the failure to take measures to prevent the destruction of crops and property by extreme weather is likely to lead to instability and deeper social divisions. 

    For the 2002-2011 period, the temperature of the European land area was on average 1.3°C above the pre-industrial level. Southern countries such as Spain, Greece and Cyprus have experienced severe droughts. Other northern countries, including Denmark, have had increased flooding such as we’ve seen here in Britain. Our climate is becoming almost as unstable as our economy!

    It seems that if there is one thing that unregulated markets will guarantee, it’s dangerous levels of climate change. We think it’s time to challenge the system and demand that Government takes a firm line, stopping new investment in infrastructure that might make the markets happy today, but at the expense of all of us tomorrow.

    They could start with reversing their crazy decision on a new airport at Lydd.  What do you think?

  • We need to talk about consumption...

    ...Because when it comes to our climate change emissions, it seems that the Government isn’t telling the whole truth. Last month, for the first time in a few years, UK carbon emissions statistics showed an increase (a 4.5% rise in 2012), following a few years of a noticeable downward trend. We’re now, overall, emitting 26% less than in 1990.

    But overall, that’s great news right? Not quite.

    Yesterday evening I went along to a talk organized by the Public Interest Research Centre and featuring speakers such as Caroline Lucas. They pointed out why our seemingly exemplary action to tackle climate change is not all it appears to be. It’s all rather neatly summarized in this new animation which was launched at last night’s event.

    According to the film we've been told three fundamental lies about the UK's emissions and consumption, lies which could have consequences for wildlife and the climate:

    Lie number one: we have succeeded in cutting UK carbon emissions

    It’s true that the emissions from stuff that's both produced and consumed in the UK have declined (manufacturing has decreased and been replaced by services). That’s because a lot of what we use is now made abroad, in particular in China.

    When the emissions caused by making that stuff are factored in, the UK’s emissions have actually increased by 20% (not decreased) compared to 1990. So, our domestic emissions balance sheets might be less carbon intensive, but our lifestyles certainly aren’t. We’re letting China take the heat for our consumer lifestyles.

    Lie number two: current UK action on climate change is enough

    Government is not investing enough in genuinely low-carbon renewable energy and other measures to reduce our emissions. True, the proportion of UK energy that comes from renewables is rising (in 2011 9.4% of the UK’s electricity same from renewable sources), and that’s to be applauded.

    But more widely we’re happy to allow the consumption accounting fix to make it look like we’re doing very well at reducing our emissions overall when in fact they’ve gone up. We need to both honestly account for these emissions and to invest more in genuinely low-carbon energy and transport options and in energy efficiency.

    Lie number three: more stuff can make us happier

    A range of evidence shows that, beyond a certain point, having more things doesn’t actually make you any happier. In fact, the cycle of consumption can make people less happy.  Speakers at last night’s event raised a couple of key points. One is that it’s important to think about how we could use stuff differently – repairing, sharing, loaning and recycling, for example. Alongside that, we can think about all the ways to be happy that don’t rely on buying more stuff: spending more time in nature being one of the more obvious.

    For me, alongside these three lies, are three compelling reasons we could benefit from rethinking how much and the way consume:

    • Our consumption is resulting in climate change emissions that we’re not taking responsibility for and this will be bad news for wildlife and people in the long run.
    • Careless or excessive consumption could place unnecessary or unsustainable pressure on wildlife and habitats.
    • Reducing the amount we consume, and freeing up time for other pursuits will probably make us happier, healthier and give us the chance to reconnect with nature.

    Burying our heads in the sand will only be bad news for wildlife, and for us, in the long run. What is it that brings you happiness, and could you be happier consuming less?