Climate change

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Climate change

News and views from the RSPB on climate change and what you can do about it.
  • A shift towards a wildlife friendly energy transition across Europe?

    By Alice Collier, Policy Officer

    Following last week’s bad news, we promised some good news. A bit of #MondayMotivation is in order!

    Last Wednesday, whilst making some seriously misguided decisions on bioenergy, the European Parliament did recognised that more coherence is needed between Europe’s energy development priorities and nature protection concerns. A number of important measures were included in the Clean Energy package of draft legislation, and, importantly, a damaging new proposal was rejected. MEPs also showed leadership with a strong call for a higher renewable energy target and a new strategy to tackle methane, a highly potent greenhouse gas.

    As we continually highlight, climate change is one of the greatest risks to wildlife and so we must act quickly and effectively to reduce greenhouse gas emissions to address this challenge. However, badly planned renewable energy and power line projects can themselves be highly damaging to wildlife. Last week’s vote was a small but significant victory for our natural environment as the need to better reconcile renewable energy and biodiversity conservation was recognised (in part) by the European Parliament.

    What have MEPs included in their position?

    For the recast Renewable Energy Directive, MEPs have:

    -        supported strengthening the renewable energy target to 35%, improving the Commission proposal of 27%. Whilst still lower than the level necessary to deliver on the Paris agreement commitments (45% by 2030 would provide a greater chance of delivering net zero by 2050, the Parliament’s position is at least a step in the right direction.

    -        introduced a requirement for Member States to take a more strategic approach to renewable energy planning that includes spatial planning, and more specifically analysis of ecological risk.

    In the Governance of the Energy Union Regulation, an important new regulation that will guide how Europe approaches the wider energy transition, they have:

    -        called for National Energy & Climate Plans to include assessment of nature protection impacts of policies and plans;

    -        rejected a damaging proposal that sought to confer priority status on large scale renewable energy projects, threatening to trample all over the very Nature Directive protections we have all fought so hard to maintain;

    -        supported establishing a new platform for dialogue between civil society, local authorities and governments

    -        backed plans for a specific strategy to tackle methane emissions in the EU - half of all greenhouse gas emissions come from livestock farming, and methane is also produced when natural gas is extracted and burned.

    So, what next?

    Before getting too excited, we must remember that while we may have won this battle, there is still a long way to go yet. Parliament will now enter negotiations with the Council representing national governments. Member States are yet to recognise the benefit to them individually, and collectively, of taking a strategic spatial approach to energy planning. Time and time again, we and our Birdlife partners across Europe continue to see badly-planned renewable energy projects come forward into the planning system as our governments gallop ahead with renewable energy delivery at lowest short-term cost.

    The MEPs who will now enter into negotiations with the EU Council will need to stand strong on the need for this link up between energy planning and wider environmental concerns, to help ensure that Europe sets itself on a path to a truly sustainable energy future.

    Taking nature and wider sustainability issues into account in energy planning isn’t just about protecting wildlife. If embraced by national governments during negotiations, the approach supported by parliament can:

    -        achieve emission reductions faster, by:

    • reducing costly and time-consuming conflicts with civil society (that we would all rather avoid!)
    • giving confidence to the industry and investors of project success, reducing investment risk
    • helping to mobilise strategic investment in well-located supporting infrastructure  and innovation
    • improving societal acceptance of energy and powerline development

    -        reduce the need for mitigation, restoration and compensation by focusing on low impact sites

    -        highlight ecological data gaps and help target research efforts to reduce uncertainty

    -        help identify opportunities for multi-benefit projects that deliver biodiversity enhancement and clean energy

    -        deliver on multiple Sustainable Development Goals at once

    -        demonstrate open and transparent governance of the energy transition

    It sounds like simple common sense for Governments to take an approach that would help deliver all this, doesn’t it? Here’s hoping they recognise the opportunity this legislation provides to set the European energy transition on the right track, before it is too late.

  • Two missed opportunities to protect the world's forests

    Sadly, 17 Jan 2018 will go down in my memory as a series of missed opportunities to protect the world’s forests.
    The UK and the EU currently rely heavily on burning wood to generate ‘renewable’ energy. But burning millions of tonnes of trees every year is actually bad news for the climate. It sends carbon dioxide straight up into the atmosphere at around the same rate as coal, sometimes at an even higher rate. And it can take years, decades or even longer for this carbon dioxide to be recaptured by regrowing trees. Such a strategy makes little sense when we urgently need to bring emissions down in order to tackle climate change. Hundreds of scientists expressed this to European politicians in the days running up to the vote and urged them to act to protect forests.
    It’s also putting precious forests at risk in Europe and the US at a time when other pressures on them are growing too. From illegal logging in old-growth forests in Poland to climate change increasing the risks of forest fires in the southeast US (forests from which the UK imports millions of tonnes of wood every year to burn in its power stations).
    But back to yesterday: first came a crucial vote in the European Parliament on the role of bioenergy from 2021-2030. Politicians in Brussels had a critical opportunity to ban the use of stumps and roundwood (whole trees) from being used for energy. Unfortunately, they missed the chance to do so, ignoring very clear scientific evidence that these types of biomass can increase (instead of reducing) emissions.
    These scientists know that burning millions of tonnes of trees for energy every year makes little sense if your objective is to reduce emissions in the short term (which we urgently need to do) or to protect biodiversity. Europe’s and the US’s forests, and their wildlife, are suffering as a result.
    Later that day came an announcement from the UK Government on the renewable subsidies they provide to power plants that convert from coal to using woody biomass. This decision is important as the UK plans to phase out coal altogether by 2025, and plant may be examining the possibility of converting to biomass.
    The UK Government’s decision regarding changes to subsidies was clearly not enough to put the brakes on the harmful use of wood for energy. Later that day, Drax power plant (in Yorkshire, and Europe's largest wood-burning power station), which has already converted three of its six units to biomass, announced that it will continue with the conversion of a fourth unit. In 2016 Drax burned 1.2 million tonnes of roundwood (whole trees), with 850,000 tonnes of this imported from the US. This industry is having a huge effect on forests and wildlife in the southeast US.
    In the consultation on these proposed subsidy changes the Government acknowledge that compared to other renewables biomass co-firing or conversion from coal provides little or no carbon savings. This begs the question of why they didn’t opt for much more stringent changes that would deter further use of woody biomass. Instead changes that were designed to restrict this type of biomass have put the wind in the sails of a further conversion at Drax.
    If politicians continue on such a course, then they’re putting the world’s forests and biodiversity at further risk. And the emissions released by burning these trees are undermining the strides made in reducing emissions by booming technologies like solar power
    Unfortunately all of this bad news has overshadowed some small but important steps forward that the European Parliament made yesterday to improve coherence between European energy and nature protection policy and objectives. Stay tuned for more on this slight glimmer of a silver lining tomorrow.
  • Reflections on the UN's climate change conference from NatureFiji-MaregetiViti

    By Siteri Tikoca MSc, Conservation Officer, NatureFiji-MareqetiViti

    Towards the end of September, 2017 I was offered an opportunity to be part of the UNFCCC COP23 meeting as the Pacific representative representing NatureFiji-MareqetiViti (NFMV) as part of the Birdlife International partnership. With support from our Birdlife International UK partner, the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB), I was able to be present throughout the two weeks of the conference from the 6th – 17th November. It was the World’s 23rd Conference of Parties and it was special as it was the first time a small island developing state (Fiji) played the leading presidency role.

    I was quite excited as this would be a number of “firsts” for me. First time to step foot in Europe, first time being involved in an international conference of this scale where important representatives from almost 200 countries meet to discuss the world’s most present and pressing issue and threat; climate change. This is only my 2nd year working in the area of conservation, as the Conservation Officer with Fiji’s only local membership-based conservation NGO, NatureFiji-MareqetiViti hence this was going to be my first COP!

    I didn’t know what to expect from the conference, I wasn’t aware of the processes, I was quite nervous but at the same time excited by the huge learning opportunity this trip could provide to me personally and what I could bring back to benefit NFMV. I saw it as an opportunity to bring our native voices to that international platform and try our best to be heard for the sake of saving our home and the species that makes them special. On my first day, I was in awe of it all, the huge venues, the meeting spaces, the multicultural people and expertise present, everything!

    In the second week I gave presentations at two side events based on challengers to natural heritage brought about by climate change and what NFMV was doing about it. I talked about the link between the iTaukei’s (native Fijians and its communities) to the “vanua” (the land, the diverse ecosystems and species within it, and its culture). My talk focused on current studies and conservation actions currently being conducted by NFMV on the ground to save some of Fiji’s endangered and endemic species which are also important totem species for a number of communities.  

    Most side events and panel discussions attended by the Birdlife International representatives (including myself) were focused on natural based solutions and ecosystem based adaptations. Attending these side events made me realise that there is a lot of work that still needs to be done in terms of natural adaptation and mitigation measures for climate change and helped me identify opportunities where NFMV can sort funding and help do our part in this fight against climate change.

    I made a lot of new friends and built network that I thought was important for NatureFiji-MareqetiViti, moving forward. I had high hopes for the outcome of the conference as we (Fiji) were given a rare opportunity to guide negotiations, talks and commitment in the direction needed on behalf of all the small island developing states in the Pacific that do not have time for politics as our survival depended on it. I was quite disappointed at the outcome as no concrete commitments or agreements were reached about reduction of carbon emissions and an agenda was set for further discussions next year meaning that we’ll just have to wait another year, wasting time that, quite frankly, we don’t have!

    I have learnt a lot of useful lessons from my participation in COP23. I have learnt that there are processes that have to be followed when trying to impact change at a global scale and change, irrespective of how important and necessary it is, takes a lot of time! I have learnt that sometimes people will not see things the way you see it because they are either ignorant or simply unaware of the realities in other parts of the world. I have learnt the power of speaking out in large numbers with one voice, and one loud message, I was able to see things from my Pacific neighbour’s point of view and learnt of the urgency and the need for everyone to work together and not think of themselves only. Also, that we can’t keep waiting for other nations to agree to do something. There are little things that we can start working on, and we should see how we can mobilise funds and resources on the ground to kick start these initiatives while waiting for the whole world to do their part! But that it is also important that we never lose hope!