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Energy in harmony with Nature

RSPB report outlines how we can achieve a green, clean and secure energy future for the UK
Energy in harmony with Nature

Europe’s largest conservation charity, the RSPB, has launched a new report showing how the UK could transform its energy system and meet its 2050 climate targets in harmony with Nature.

A harmonious system

The RSPB’s 2050 Energy Vision report shows how the UK could generate as much as 6,277 TWh (terawatt hours) per year using only renewable technologies – almost four times more than the UK’s total energy consumption in 2014.

Crucially, this level of renewable energy could be produced whilst avoiding important sites for wildlife, using a mix of solar, onshore wind, bioenergy, offshore wind, wave and tidal power.

The research was carried out by RSPB scientists who developed pioneering mapping approaches to assess where renewable energy technologies could be located to avoid sensitive wildlife areas, as well as taking account of other planning constraints.

Using a practical approach, the RSPB has incorporated a range of criteria including housing, shipping lanes and other important infrastructure to take into account other constraints to deploying renewable technologies.

However, the charity says that further investment in monitoring of wildlife distributions and sensitivities, especially in the marine environment, along with better use of spatial planning, is crucial to ensure that future developments are sited appropriately. This would ensure that our need for energy is balanced with our duty to protect our precious natural environment.

‘Climate change is one of the greatest long-term threats to wildlife. And, with rising sea levels, increased flooding and changes to our weather it is also affecting people and our economy. So, doing nothing is not an option.

‘Rising to this challenge will require a major roll out of renewable and low carbon energy sources. If poorly planned, this can risk damaging valuable areas for wildlife. This report is our latest contribution to the debate by showing how a low-carbon, high-renewable energy future can be achieved in the UK in harmony with nature – based on the currently available evidence.’

RSPB’s Director of Conservation

Three options

The RSPB used the results of the research to develop three 2050 scenarios that would meet the UK’s energy needs – delivering energy security and achieving climate targets, with low risk for wildlife, at a similar cost to other decarbonisation scenarios.

These scenarios include a mix of established technologies such as onshore wind and solar, as well as newer technologies such as floating offshore wind turbines. The report shows there are substantial opportunities for emerging marine energy technologies such as floating turbines to be located in deeper waters around the UK, where ecological sensitivities are likely to be lower.

The scenarios highlight that to meet climate targets affordably, securely and in harmony with Nature, the UK needs to reduce its energy demand significantly, through improved home insulation and energy efficiency, for example.

‘Conservationists are often accused of only looking for problems, but this pioneering research offers workable solutions to meet our climate targets.

‘We have come up with a positive vision for the UK’s energy future, and options for how this can be turned into reality. We hope our report initiates a debate and acts as a catalyst for the UK taking a leading role reducing emissions affordably, securely and in harmony with Nature.’

RSPB’s Director of Conservation

There is also an urgent need to decarbonise the heat and transport sectors, for instance through electric vehicles and heat pumps, and to develop new innovative technologies such energy storage and smarter grid networks. In the short term, the charity says that existing technologies such as onshore wind and solar can continue to play a key role in decarbonising the UK’s energy supply, provided that projects are sited appropriately for wildlife.

The report contains 10 recommendations for how to achieve the UK’s climate targets in harmony with Nature. The charity is calling on governments across the UK to follow its recommendations in order to protect wildlife in the UK’s low carbon transition.

Click here to read the full report on the RSPB website.

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