Nature does not respect national boundaries. And neither do the threats faced by nature. Climate change is one of the greatest threats to wildlife (see Martin Harper's recent blog for more detail) and it is a global issue which requires action by all countries.
As part of the Birdlife Europe partnership, we support strong action across Europe to reduce carbon emissions in order to reduce the extent of global temperature rise and the potentially catastrophic impacts a changing climate could have , and is already starting to have, on our wildlife (see the State of Nature 2016 report).
The EU’s new ‘Clean Energy EU' package of policy changes, published 30 November, could have been an opportunity for Europe to make a major step in the right direction but it has fallen short in many critical areas. It is now vital that we convince the European Parliament and Member States to improve this package before it is too late.
So what’s wrong with the EU policy proposals?
This package of revised and new policies for the period 2020 – 2030 has been branded the ‘Clean Energy’ package, but it is not clear to us how the EU Commission’s proposals will lead to a clean energy EU that works for wildlife anytime soon. Although some positive steps have been made in this package, particularly in relation to energy efficiency there are a number of overarching areas where improvements are needed:
- the level of ambition and a suitable framework to ensure countries deliver on targets remain too weak for the EU to live up to the emission reduction commitments that were made at the Paris Climate Summit in 2015. This is bad news for our wildlife.
- As Birdlife Europe stated in response to the proposals on Wednesday, “Environmental integrity is still missing from the Commission’s Clean Energy Package”. The Clean Energy package makes little real effort to ensure that the pursuit of renewable energy by member states does not negatively impact on our already struggling wildlife. These impacts take two main forms:
What do we want to see instead?
To make a real difference to carbon emissions soon enough to limit temperature increases which will be harmful to wildlife, the 'Clean Energy' package needs to include more ambitious targets for 2030 for both renewable energy and energy efficiency, and a long term commitment to 100% low carbon energy by 2050.
However Europe must pursue its energy transition in harmony with nature. With the help of our supporters, we have already demonstrated to the EU how important the legislation which protects Europe’s birds and habitats (the ‘Nature Directives’) is. The energy transition is at risk of undermining the Nature Directives if environmental constraints are not factored in.
To protect all wildlife that calls Europe home for part or all of the year, we want to see not only the UK government, but all European governments, taking into account the potential wildlife impact of different renewable energy options within the national climate and energy action planning that they will be required to produce. When developing the RSPB’s 2050 Energy Vision we found that it is possible to achieve a low carbon energy system that in the UK at low risk to wildlife, but only if we take significant action to reduce energy demand, and think carefully about where to locate energy generation, and related infrastructure such as network pylons
The use of biomass for transport, heat and power, which makes up two thirds of the EU’s renewable energy, can harm wildlife and can actually result in increases in emissions in many cases (points acknowledged in the Commission’s own analysis). The Black Book of Bioenergy gives more details on this. Bioenergy can play a limited sustainable role in transport and energy systems but very strong safeguards are needed to ensure that it actually reduces emissions and protects nature. This package of policy changes provides an opportunity to put a stop to harmful crop-based biofuels being used for renewable transport fuel, to rule out use of the most harmful kinds of biomass (like whole trees) for heat and power generation, and to improve the criteria for sustainable forest management. Unfortunately, the measures set out in the new package do not go far enough to ensure this sustainability.
We need to tackle climate change, but if we don’t get the transition to a renewable future right we risk significantly damaging local and global biodiversity in the process. The EU’s Clean Energy package will now be considered by the European Parliament and the Member States over the next year or two. We hope that the European Parliament will recognise the importance of ensuring that environmental constraints are factored into this policy package to avoid conflict between energy policy and the Nature Directives. Whilst the UK remains a part of the EU, we believe our MEPs and the UK Government still have role to play in working with their European counterparts to encourage all European countries to aim high, and ensure the environmental integrity of energy policy.