By Alice Collier, Policy Officer (Climate Change & Energy) at RSPB.
As we all begin winding down for Christmas break, here at BirdLife Europe we have been taking stock of the developing position of the European Parliament on how Europe should progress with the energy transition out to 2030 and beyond.
Climate change is one of the greatest threats to nature, and so BirdLife Europe is supportive of ambitious action to transition to renewable energy. However, not all pathways to reduce our carbon emissions are equal. A badly-planned transition with poorly sited energy developments and a focus on unsustainable technologies could lead to serious wildlife impacts.
We want to see Europe take the opportunity to ensure a more strategic approach that delivers a truly sustainable energy future for Europe’s people and wildlife. Crucially, it must be ensured that delivery of renewable energy is not pitted against the protection of Europe’s biodiversity. It will not be in anyone’s interest in the medium to long term if Europe charges ahead with a damaging transition that degrade the health of ecosystems upon which we all rely.
The“Clean Energy Package”can make this happen, through a Regulation on the governance of energy and a Directive on renewable energy.
So how do things stand as we head towards the next stage of Parliamentary debate? There’s some good, some bad, and some downright ugly… but it’s not too late for the remaining problems to be fixed.
At this stage, there are some signs that MEPs recognise the need for Member States to plan strategically to avoid wildlife conflicts developing. However, there remains a worrying lack of action to address Europe’s growing reliance on unsustainable bioenergy, and a concerning appetite to drive forward large-scale regional renewable energy projects without regard for potential biodiversity impacts.
As for the Council of Ministers…despite the clear imperative to address climate change and the international commitments to do so, there has been a disappointing determination from many Member States (though not all) to water down the Commission’s proposals.
European and global wildlife is therefore depending on our MEPs to help set Europe on the right pathway to a sustainable energy future. We hope they help to ring in the New Year on a positive note by:
- maintaining a strong stance on the positive elements listed below, and
- recognising, and acting to remedy, the remaining issues ahead of negotiations with the Council.
The Environment (ENVI) and Industry & Energy (ITRE) Committees have:
- taken big strides in improving the ambition of the Clean Energy package – calling for net zero emissions in the EU by 2050; robust governance around the energy transition; a higher target for renewable energy. Whilst we would still like to see a higher renewable energy target (45%), Parliament’s position is a step in the right direction and we hope to see it maintained through the final stages of Parliament’s consideration, and in negotiations with Council.
- recognised to some degree the value of coherence between Europe’s energy legislation and nature protection legislation by:
- introducing the need for Member States to include spatial analysis of low ecological risk opportunities for renewable energy when assessing national potential for renewable energy (Renewable Energy Directive);
- requiring strategic consideration by Member States of the impacts of the policies and measures they intend to use to meet the 2030 targets (Governance Regulation);
- strengthening how Member States must address any environmental impact issues arising from their National Energy & Climate Plans (NECPs), ensuring the mitigation hierarchy – Avoid then Mitigate then Compensate – is adhered to (Governance Regulation);
- establishing a Multilevel Climate and Energy Dialogue Platform “to support active engagement of local authorities, civil society organisations [and others] in managing the energy transition”. (Governance Regulation)
- introduced a requirement for the Commission to develop a methane strategy to help Member States in their planning reduce methane emissions. Methane is a greenhouse gas with more than 30 times more global warming potential that CO2 and Europe needs to tackle this urgently!
- included requirements for Members States to include plans to maintain and enhance carbon sinks – reducing energy demand and switch to renewable energy supplies on their own will not be enough for Europe to achieve net zero emissions by 2050.
- supported a tightening cap on the contribution of ‘crop-based’ biofuels for transport – these are the most damaging types of biofuels that can harm nature and the climate.
- failed to encourage Member States to focus on the restoration of degraded natural carbon sinks such as forests, wetlands, and natural/semi-natural grasslands, as part of efforts to enhance carbon sinks.
- introduced a dangerous provision to encourage regional prioritisation of energy projects that are of Energy Union interest. This proposed new provision in the Governance Regulation risks inadvertently giving Member States the licence to destroy Europe’s wildlife in the name of renewable energy. This will only lead to costly conflicts and delays. Instead Governments, civil society, and industry should work together to identify the low impact options for our energy system that work for everyone. We believe that this provision (new Article 11a of the Governance Regulation) could be improved to make it work for people and nature, but that it should not be further progressed in its current form.
- voted in favour of renewing a renewable energy target for the transport sector. MEPs in the ITRE Committee voted for a 12% target for renewable energy in transport by 2030. The existing renewable transport target has mostly driven the use of extremely unsustainable biofuels. Extending the target is only likely to incentivise more of these biofuels, even if there is a cap on their use by 2030.
- failed to rule out the use of stumps and stemwood for energy. These types of biomass have been causing loss of forests, their wildlife and their stores of carbon. Scientific evidence clearly shows that these types of biomass can be worse than fossil fuels in terms of emission. Ruling out stumps and stemwood could have helped to ensure that Europe’s future use of bioenergy helps to deliver emissions reductions.
- voted for a new renewable target for the heating sector of 2 percentage points per year. The heating sector does not currently have a renewable energy target, but MEPs voted to introduce one from 2020. Since most renewable heating in the EU has so far been delivered by unsustainable woody biomass, the risk of introducing a target is that it will create an even stronger incentive for the worse types of biomass.
So to wrap up, the ENVI and ITRE committees within European Parliament have made some positive improvements to help improve coherence between Europe’s energy and nature protection objectives, BUT there is still much more that needs to be done to avert a climate and wildlife crisis.
Here at BirdLife Europe we are hoping that the festive break brings time for those with the future of Europe in their hands to indulge in some pondering over a glass or two of mulled wine about what type of energy future Europe should be striving for.
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