RSPB: UK Can Reach Its 2050 RE Targets without Harming Wildlife

According to a new research by the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB), the UK’s 2050 climate targets can be achieved using high levels of renewable energy, with low risk for wildlife and protected areas. 

‘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. Both Scotland and the UK’s climate target is an 80% emissions reduction by 2050.

The 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 the finest wildlife areas are safeguarded.

The research enabled the RSPB to develop three 2050 scenarios to meet energy needs with low risk for wildlife. The scenarios include a range of renewables alongside energy storage, interconnection with other countries, and smart grid networks which will enable better matching of energy supply and demand. They assume demand for energy will be reduced by a third, meaning Government support is required to ramp up measures like home insulation.

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