New RSPB research shows Scotland can switch to low carbon energy without harming wildlife

Golden EagleThe RSPB – Europe’s largest conservation charity- today launches a new report showing how the UK could transform its energy system and meet its 2050 climate targets in harmony with nature.

‘The RSPB’s 2050 Energy Vision’ shows for the first time how renewable technologies could meet the majority of UK’s energy needs whilst avoiding harm to important species and habitats.

Climate change is recognised as the single greatest threat to people and nature globally. Scotland’s target is to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions by 80% by 2050, and decarbonising our energy supply is a major part of this challenge.

RSPB Scotland strongly supports well-sited renewable energy. However, developments can harm wildlife and damage habitats if poorly located or planned – for example through bird collision with wind turbines. The charity spends considerable time engaging with planning applications to ensure that sensitive areas are avoided, and the organisation robustly fights developments with unacceptably high impacts.

Stuart Housden, Director of RSPB Scotland, said: “Our research shows that a low carbon energy future in harmony with nature is possible, and we have set out a positive vision for how this can be done without harming Scotland’s special places for wildlife.

“It’s critical that we work together now to make this happen. Climate change is one of the single biggest threats to people and nature alike, but with Scotland’s nature in decline, we have a responsibility to invest in an energy system that works for both people and our natural heritage. The Government has a key role in developing a strategic approach to spatial planning to guide the right developments to the right places. 

“We have shown that this can be achieved affordably and securely, and are committed to continuing to work with responsible developers and decision-makers to help achieve our vision.”

This research was carried out by RSPB scientists who developed pioneering mapping approaches to assess where renewable energy technologies including onshore wind, solar, bioenergy, offshore wind, wave and tidal energy could be located to avoid sensitive wildlife areas, taking account of other planning constraints such as infrastructure and land needed for food production.

Results show that the UK could generate up to four times its current total energy demand from renewable sources – but this is dependent on a strategic approach to energy planning, where projects are located to maximise generation at the lowest cost to nature. 

Whilst a large proportion of this potential is for offshore renewables in deeper waters, using wave and floating wind technologies which will take time to develop, the research also identified considerable areas available for established onshore renewables. Results found that Scotland could increase its onshore wind capacity by three times, and its solar capacity by thirty times.

However, the charity says that further investment in monitoring of wildlife distributions and sensitivities, especially in the marine environment, along with a strategic use of spatial planning, is essential to ensure future developments are located appropriately and our finest wildlife areas safeguarded.

Based on these findings, RSPB Scotland has set out 10 recommendations for the Scottish Government to decarbonise energy in harmony with nature; –

  1. Set the ambition: 50% renewable energy by 2030
  2. Use a plan-led approach to help identify suitable sites and minimise conflicts
  3. Develop a roadmap for decarbonisation in harmony with nature
  4. Eliminate energy waste, including measures to improve energy performance of buildings
  5. Invest in understanding the impacts of different technologies on wildlife, to help developers progress schemes in the right places, and to ensure they can enhance nature wherever possible
  6. Invest in innovation to unlock low carbon technologies such as energy storage and floating wind turbines
  7. Transform low carbon heat and transport: set targets for renewable heat and zero emissions vehicles
  8. Make economic incentives work for nature and the climate, including support for well-sited onshore wind and solar energy
  9. Set robust standards to ensure bioenergy benefits, rather than harms wildlife
  10. Support a grid network that accommodates high levels of renewable energy

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