Impacts of renewable energy on global biodiversity – an overlooked cost of climate change mitigation?

Climate change poses a significant and increasing risk for biodiversity, ecosystems and ecosystem services. Urgent mitigation of greenhouse gas emissions is essential to reduce the impacts of climate change on biodiversity. However, mitigation may also increase extinction risk through the unintended impacts of renewable energy developments, such as wind farms or biofuel. Despite this, there has been no global assessment of the likely vulnerability of biodiversity to renewable energy at the scales at which they will need to be deployed for effective mitigation. Given rapidly rising renewable energy development, this is urgently needed to inform policies to minimise conflict between mitigation and biodiversity conservation, as recognised by the latest IPCC report.

Whilst there have been a number of global assessments of climate change impacts upon species, there is an urgent need to perform a comparable assessment for renewable energy, as called for by the IPCC. This project will achieve this, delivering high-impact journal papers, species assessments of vulnerability to large-scale energy deployment, global maps to inform spatial planning and cumulative impacts of that deployment, and policy-relevant outputs to inform industry, international financial institutions, regulatory bodies and conservation organisations on how deployment can be sensitive to needs for species protection.

This project is funded by the CCI Collaborative Fund for Conservation

Project Aims

Previous global assessments have highlighted the significant threat climate change poses to species. However, effective mitigation of climate change will require the large-scale deployment of renewable energy technologies, which could also have detrimental consequences for biodiversity. This project will undertake a global assessment of the impacts of different levels of renewable energy generation for birds and mammals. It will produce:

  • Species assessments of vulnerability to large-scale energy deployment.
  • Global maps to inform spatial planning and assessment of cumulative impacts.
  • Policy-relevant outputs to inform industry, international financial institutions, regulatory bodies and conservation organisations.
  • Peer-reviewed publications.

Key Activities

  • Species-specific sensitivity to impacts of renewable energy will be estimated by combining a review of literature with information from species’ traits databases.
  • The distribution of renewable deployment will be derived from land-use and energy technology models supplemented by projections from the fifth assessment IPCC report. These will be overlaid with species-distribution polygons to assess species-specific exposures.
  • Existing information will inform expert-based assessments of the potential to reduce the biodiversity impacts of different renewable energy generation options through appropriate management.
  • Species’ vulnerability will be quantified from the interaction between estimates of sensitivity, exposure and potential to reduce impact. Maps will identify where the hotspots of vulnerability occur.

Conservation Impact

  • By globally assessing the biodiversity impacts of what is one of the most significant drivers of contemporary land-use change, this project provides analysis to inform high-level decision-making.
  • Outputs will inform the proposed CMS Energy Task Force, and be used by international financial institutions to inform their energy sector risk assessments.  
  • Output maps and regional summaries will facilitate knowledge exchange and inform the targeting of resulting conservation initiatives.

Outputs

  • Report and paper of species’ sensitivity to renewable energy generation.
  • Species assessments incorporated within the Species Information Service, co-managed by IUCN and BirdLife International.
  • Hotspot maps of vulnerability to renewable energy generation.
  • Report and paper summarising global vulnerability assessment results.
  • Policy-focussed summaries for dissemination through CCI and organisation websites.  

CCI partners Involved

The Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB) speaks out for birds and wildlife, tackling the problems that threaten our environment. It is the largest wildlife conservation organisation in...
The Department of Zoology carries out wide-ranging work in ecology and conservation including conservation science, aquatic ecology, pathogen evolution and evolutionary ecology. Research of the...
BirdLife International is a strategic global partnership of conservation organisations in over 100 countries, working to conserve birds, their habitats and global biodiversity, and to promote...
The Department of Land Economy's core research in economics, law and planning focuses on policies and regulations for the management of land and natural resources. There is particular expertise in...
IUCN, the International Union for Conservation of Nature, is the world's oldest and largest global environmental network. It helps the world find pragmatic solutions to our most pressing environment...
The UN Environment World Conservation Monitoring Centre (UNEP-WCMC) is the specialist biodiversity assessment arm of the United Nations Environment Programme, the world’s foremost intergovernmental...
British Trust for Ornithology (BTO) is an independent scientific research trust specialising in impartial evidence-based knowledge and advice about populations, movements and ecology of birds and...

Related Resources

Resource Title Description Type
Presentation: The potential biodiversity cost of renewable energy Introductory presentation on the potential problems large-scale renewable energy deployment may pose for biodiversity by Dr James Pearce-Higgins (Director of Science at the British Trust for... Talks and presentations

Project blog posts

1 May 2016
Previous global assessments have highlighted the significant threat climate change poses to species. However, effective mitigation of climate change will require the large-scale deployment of...