A Renewable Energy Directive for nature & people

Our Statement for a new Renewable Energy Directive

The energy transition cannot happen at the expense of biodiversity and local communities

The ecological and climate crises threaten human livelihoods, biodiversity, and the overall health of the planet. The Renewable Energy Directive (RED) is an opportunity to align priorities and champion energy solutions that can tackle these crises within the EU. Achieving the EU climate change objectives requires:

  • a reduction in total energy consumption,
  • an increase in renewable energy to replace fossil fuels and achieve a 100% renewable energy system by 2040,
  • and an increase in energy efficiency to cut greenhouse gas emissions by at least 65% by 2030.

Achieving a fully renewable energy grid by 2040 is technically feasible, as shown by EEB-CAN Paris Agreement Compatible energy scenario. A shift to 100% renewable is needed both to tackle the climate crisis and to reduce dependency on fossil-fuels, particularly important in current times.

Huge dam dams up river

Huge dam on the Neretva - devastating effects for migratory fish species and other river wildlife.

© Anton Vorauer
Wind Power Plants on a hill

Wind energy is a more nature-friendly alternative.

© Dietmar Nill

However, some renewable energy sources such as hydropower, forest biomass and crop-based fuels are not necessarily environmentally sustainable since they can destroy nature. Burning almost all forms of forest biomass increases atmospheric CO2 concentrations over climate-relevant timescales that cannot be offset by replanting trees. A fit-for-purpose RED will avoid incentivising combustion-based energies as much as possible, including from forests and crops. Hydropower plants can cause dramatic changes in freshwater biodiversity, surrounding wildlife and local communities and can compound the effects of climate change. The RED can address these challenges by ceasing to finance and build new hydropower plants, maximising the efficiency of existing hydropower installations and dedicating funding to their ecological refurbishment when needed.

Further developing and implementing more sustainable renewable energy sources such as wind, solar and geothermal can help limit biodiversity and social impacts and reach renewable energy targets when developed along with good spatial planning. For this, Member States must identify suitable and nature-compatible areas for energy and mining infrastructure, depending on the prevalence of protected species and habitats and in agreement with local communities. The RED must outline a planning process for Member States that both makes projects development easier and better limits the impacts of renewable energy on nature and people, respecting Free Prior and Informed Consent (FPIC) on Indigenous People’s land.

Additionally, the goals in the RED should be to upgrade the energy grid to be compatible with solar, wind and geothermal energy; incentivise building renovations that help reduce energy consumption and increase renewable energy uptake such as solar photovoltaic cell energy; and improve electrification of the energy system by updating existing infrastructure, electricity storage capacities, and expanding it to rural areas.

The EU must prioritise renewable energy that does not hinder the conservation or the recovery of the good ecological and environmental status of species and habitats. The RED should be made explicitly cross-compliant with other EU policies and directives such as the Birds and Habitats Directive, which aims to achieve favourable conservation status of species and habitats; the Water Framework Directive, which aims to achieve the good ecological status of water bodies; and the Marine Strategy Framework Directive, which aims to achieve good environmental status of marine areas.

Download the statement as PDF-file

Sign our statement with the name and the logo of your organisation here

Signees

EuroNatur; BirdLife Europe; Europe Beyond Biomass (TBC); Riverwatch; European Environment Bureau; FERN; Europe Beyond Burning; PFPI; Natuurpunt; CZIP; BirdWatch Ireland; Eurosite; Society For Nature Conservation - SABUKO; BirdLife Cyprus; Latvian Ornithological Society; BIOM; Czech Society for Ornithology; Hellenic Ornithological Society; Lipu; BirdLife Sweden; MES; SOSS/BirdLife Slovakia; Lithuanian Ornithological Society; Sociedade Portuguesa para o Estudo das Aves; EcoKosWomen EKW; Let’s Do It Peja; EcoZ; Grüne Liga e.V.; Fundacja Strefa Zieleni; OTOP/BirdLife Poland; Institute for Environmental Policy; Eco Albania; NGO BIOS; Balkanka; Agent Green; Polish Green Network; Zielone Wiadomości/Green News; Fundacja Zielone Światło; Zero Waste Europe; Canopée Forêts Vivantes; Fertő lake Association; CEE Bankwatch Network; Wolne Rzeki; Geota; Comitato AVB; SharaWatch; Pishtaret; Center for Climate Change

If you like to have any information, please contact us: red4nature(at)euronatur.org

RED4Nature explained by EuroNatur's employees Bruna Campos and Tara Sukic

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We can achieve the climate change objectives by prioritising renewable energies that are aligned with nature

Climate action should phase out fossil fuels and nuclear energy while prioritising renewable energies that can minimise impacts on nature and take into account its ecological capacities. A fit-for-purpose Renewable Energy Directive will focus on renewable energy sources that sustain healthy, natural ecosystems.

  • Solar Energy

    Solar is a cost-effective energy source to scale up and a major driver for electrification and decentralisation of the energy grid. While solar power is limited to the daytime and areas with sufficient solar irradiation and suitable locations, with increasing innovation in the capacity to store solar energy, the potential of solar can expand even further. 

    Solar energy can also be one of the most cost-effective forms of renewable energy, in particular, Photovoltaic (PV) cells mounted on or integrated into buildings. Solar PV energy systems generate the greatest amount of power per area among renewables, including wind, hydroelectric, and biomass. An increase in solar PV could make solar energy the second most important electricity source in Europe by 2040, covering almost 30-40% of electricity generation. 

    As with all technologies, solar energy can also have unintended waste of by-products. Recycling and proper disposal of solar panels should also be envisioned, in particular holding solar panel manufacturers responsible for implementing a recycling programme. As with wind installations, many impacts can be reduced or avoided by appropriate planning and siting. Nevertheless, solar PV energy systems generate the greatest amount of power per area among renewables, including wind, hydroelectric, and biomass.

  • Wind energy

    With proper planning, onshore wind can become the EU’s most important electricity source with the potential to reach more than 2500 TWh by 2040, while offshore wind energy can see an increase to around 800 TWh by 2040. New wind turbine technologies have also been developed to allow for small and community wind energy, in particular to power rural areas, enable individuals to produce their own energy and facilitate a decentralised grid planning approach.

    Wind farms, large or small, should not be placed in migratory routes of animals (e.g. birds, mammals etc), breeding areas as well as in protected areas. Important areas for foraging should also be avoided. This ensures that the most important areas for wild animals are not impacted. Furthermore, wind turbines should only be produced from recycled material. Extraction from and destruction of natural ecosystems, including outside of Europe, should be limited.

  • Geothermal energy

    Geothermal energy is produced from the heat generated beneath the earth’s solid surface which can easily take place at a shallow level without the need to penetrate deep into the soil. The heat can be captured through heat pumps and can be a key driver for the electrification of heating. Therefore, through deep renovation of buildings and increased installation of heat pumps, the potential of shallow geothermal energy will also increase. 

    Geothermal energy can be used to complement the fluctuations of wind and solar energy. Phasing-out gas and oil boilers will be an important step for increasing the use of geothermal energy through heat pumps. The primary energy supply of geothermal energy can increase more than ten-fold by 2040.

Energy sources that destroy nature are not the way forward

Renewable energy sources like hydropower and forest biomass are not necessarily environmentally sustainable since they can destroy and alter important forests and rivers that we rely on for the healthy functioning of our planet. Here’s how: 

  • Forest biomass

    Forest biomass is unsustainable and propels the climate crisis by destroying important carbon sinks

    Forest biomass is highly destructive to nature and has encouraged the logging of trees, including in protected areas. Deriving energy from forests and crops is land-inefficient, given the high amounts of land, water and other resources needed to produce each unit of energy. Bioenergy can also lead to indirect land-use changes when farmers have to clear other wild areas to grow food to make up for the loss of land due to bioenergy production. Moreover, burning almost all forms of forest biomass increases atmospheric CO2 concentrations over climate-relevant timescales that cannot be offset by replanting trees. 

    In Europe, 86% of all forest habitats are already in an unfavourable condition as a result of poor forest management; clearcutting and removal of old and dead trees have the most harmful effect on wildlife habitats. Old, healthy forest ecosystems are important carbon sinks, storing carbon in the living tree stands as well as in deadwood and soil; these forests are also species-rich and thus play a major role in preserving biodiversity. 

    Forest biomass should not be further pursued in Europe. In fact, to adhere to biodiversity targets, the use of bioenergy must be reduced by almost two thirds by 2040. 

     

  • Hydropower

    The negative impacts of hydropower on nature are vast while the amount of energy derived is negligible

    Hydropower severely impacts freshwater ecosystems and biodiversity worldwide. Research shows that hydropower generation, including small hydropower, is potentially the most significant driver of freshwater fish species extinction because it disrupts river connectivity, sediment transport and fish migration. Only 40% of surface waters in the EU are currently in good ecological condition. Expanding hydropower development will lead to more habitat loss, fragmentation and destruction; deterioration of living conditions for wildlife; and an increase in erosion and deforestation.

    The current and potential electricity contribution of hydropower, particularly small hydropower, is insignificant, compared to the massive costs it incurs for its building and maintenance. In 2019, the EU’s 19,000+ existing hydropower plants only produced 2% of the EU's total energy supply. If all the 5,500+ planned hydropower plants would be built, this share would only increase by around 0.5%. Furthermore, climate change is expected to negatively impact the productivity of many hydropower plants in the future.

    Further investments in hydropower projects in Europe are therefore neither ecologically sustainable nor financially viable. Moreover, building new hydropower plants in Europe runs directly counter to the EU Biodiversity Strategy’s commitment to restore 25,000 km of free-flowing rivers.

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