Interview with Bruna Campos

Right at the heart of the action

How we’re driving EU policy change in Brussels

Insight in the European Parliament

At the European Parliament in Brussels, politicians are voting on the continent's future energy policy.

© Mira Bell

It's "climate and biodiversity policy madness" remarked EU MEP Martin Häusling to ZEIT Online at the beginning of April 2022. Häusling was commenting on the fact that EU member states are extensively subsidising the burning of wood in power plants - in order to generate supposedly green electricity. In Germany, this amounts to more than 1.5 billion euros a year. EuroNatur says, it's high time for a change of direction! A new version of the Renewable Energy Directive (RED) is due in 2022/2023. Now is the time to get involved in shaping the way energy provision in the European Union can and will look in the future.

“We need to decentralise our energy system!” - How the energy transition can be a successful one

Egyptian Goose in front of the European Parliament

Whether this Egyptian Goose in front of the EU Parliament has a clue about what is being debated inside?

© Mira Bell

EuroNatur is defending the common interests of civil society and nature in Brussels, and is pressing for an energy system that works with nature and not against it. In this interview, Bruna Campos, Senior Policy Manager at EuroNatur, outlines why that’s so important.

Bruna, the EU Renewable Energy Directive (RED) is currently under revision. Why is it so important for civil society to get involved?

The draft presented by the EU Commission is weak and in many respects not ambitious enough. It fails to guarantee that the future use of renewable energies will not have a negative impact on nature. Currently, two forms of renewable energy are being promoted that are highly destructive to nature: hydropower and biomass. The Renewable Energy Directive is actually supposed to align with the goals of the Green Deal. That means we need solutions that address the environmental crisis as a whole. We need a clear direction! We need to move away from forms of energy production that harm nature and we need to decentralise our energy system. The war in Ukraine is further proof of this.

The efforts being made by politicians to ensure that Europe becomes independent of Russian gas and oil as quickly as possible are great. Is this also putting more pressure on nature?

Yes, it is. Ideas such as growing food to burn for biofuels are short-sighted and ignorant. They don’t solve the problem, and they create new crises instead. Many politicians fail to see that a long-term vision is needed.

Infographic sustainable energy system

EuroNatur is lobbying intensively for a system change towards decentralised energy production. What does that mean?  

In a decentralised system, villages, communities or cities produce their own energy. People help each other. Let’s say people in one village produce their own solar energy. If a person or family has produced more than they consume, the surplus is fed into the grid. That way it is available for the immediate neighbours or for the neighbouring village. Conversely, if someone uses more energy than they have produced, they can use the energy source that is closest to them. This means that as little energy as possible is lost on its way to consumers. Currently, transmission losses amount to 30 to 40 percent. That’s far too much!

Do you think it’s possible to achieve this fundamental change in time, given that the climate and biodiversity crises have long been a reality?

There are already thousands of energy communities in Europe, but they need to be connected to each other. Also, the most appropriate form of energy production needs to be identified for each area, and its respective potential determined. As part of this, it’s also important to consider how sensitively species or habitats would react to different kinds of energy usage. Careful planning is essential for nature conservation. As yet, far too little thought has been given to this. Above all, investment is needed so that existing data can be analysed. Where data already exists, mapping it should take less than a year. But first and foremost it needs the support of governments! In the first instance, we want the EU Commission to understand that they need to lead the way, and that nature has to be part of the equation. So far, the RED only suggests the energy community model to member states; implementing it is not mandatory. It’s also important to ensure that member states take environmental laws into account when planning energy infrastructure. All this is missing from the current RED and also from the draft revision, which is why we launched the RED4nature campaign.

  • The RED4Nature campaign

    In 2022, several votes on the Renewable Energy Directive are taking place. We’re calling for a change of direction and for a sustainable pathway. This should lead away from nuclear energy and fossil fuels, and at the same time highlight alternatives to the use of wood biomass and the further expansion of hydropower. In order to ensure our vision receives the attention it deserves in Brussels, we launched the environmental campaign RED4Nature (RED stands for Renewable Energy Directive). In autumn 2021, EuroNatur held 15 lobby meetings with members of the European Parliament in just one week. And in April and May 2022, further marathon talks were held.

Installation in front of the European Parliament

A fitting motto...

© Mira Bell

You meet members of the European Parliament in Brussels and tell them that it’s not "green" to destroy forests and rivers for energy production. How open are the politicians to alternative approaches?

We talk to MEPs on a regular basis. As part of the RED4Nature campaign, we have conducted interviews on camera. We want MEPs to say publicly what they think. Unfortunately, many are reluctant to give definitive answers to our questions about their views on deforestation and the destruction of rivers. So far, politicians have barely made any serious efforts to resolve conflicts which exist between the expansion of renewable energies and nature conservation. But we’re finding that they’re listening to us more and more and also learning from those conversations. When we talk about decentralisation, it’s sometimes difficult for them to visualise what it might look like. That's why we’re now going to create fact sheets featuring energy communities in order to showcase examples of best practice. In Albania, for example, we’ve been successfully supporting the municipality of Kute on the Vjosa River to become a renewable energy community which is powered mainly by solar energy.

EuroNatur is quite a small organisation. How realistic is it for us to be able to achieve a change of mindset at EU level?

We’re joining forces with many other non-governmental organisations and are bringing aspects that are important for civil society into the discussion. When you protect nature, you act for the good of everyone. It's frustrating that today - especially among politicians and decision-makers - economic benefit is the only thing that counts. In the end, however, investment in nature conservation will also pay off economically, especially if we prevent our system from collapsing. It can be expensive to restore systems that have been destroyed. We, as civil society, should believe in our own effectiveness and give nature a voice in the political decision-making process. 

Energy ministers, members of the EU Parliament and the EU Commission must believe in system change, otherwise it will not happen.

Bruna Campos Bruna Campos, Senior Policy Manager at EuroNatur
Comparison between energy supply in 2019 and energy sources in 2040
Bird strike victim due to wind turbines

Wind energy is actually a clean form of energy production. However, the location is important: Hotspots of migratory bird routes must be taboo!

© Mihail Iliev

We’re against nuclear energy and fossil fuels but, in our view, wood biomass and hydropower are not suitable alternatives either. Is there anything left?

Yes, absolutely. We see a lot of potential in the production of solar and wind energy as well as in the use of geothermal energy (see graphics). Many people think of Iceland when they hear about geothermal energy. Then they say: “But we don't live on a volcanic island.” But you don’t need to! Near-surface geothermal energy can also be used. No one generates huge amounts of energy from it, but it’s enough to heat the house, for example. In our opinion, geothermal energy and heat pumps offer great potential, especially in rural areas. We think energy production from geothermal sources can account for at least 14 percent of total renewable energy production in the EU.

However, we also need to be careful here. The effects on nature, especially on soils, are not yet sufficiently known. More research needs to be done to ensure that any increase in energy production has only a minimal impact on nature.

And what about wind energy? The protection of migratory birds has been one of EuroNatur's core concerns from the very beginning. What about the images of bird collisions that immediately spring to mind?

Wind energy is a good choice if it’s used in the right place. Mapping protected bird species is essential here. It’s obvious, for example, that it’s not a good idea to build wind farms on the flight paths of migratory birds. And we must avoid creating additional pressures! The biggest threat to seabirds, for example, is from being bycaught on fishing gear. If that problem were to be eliminated, seabird populations could withstand a certain amount of mortality from windfarms.

You mean we have to prioritise where we do harm?

I mean we can’t do everything, because there’s an ecological capacity limit. People tend to want everything at the same time - I want to have my light on all the time, I want to eat everything I like, I want to be able to travel anywhere at any time, etc... We’ve forgotten that we’re exploiting our resources and that we can’t treat our planet this way, at least not without consequences. Decisions need to be made on what is really important and governments need to enable those decisions to be made, following scientific advice, together with public participation.

Against this backdrop, how can we prepare for a winter in 2022 without oil and gas supplies from Russia?

We can reduce our energy consumption and governments can regulate this. They can help reduce our fuel consumption by, for example, setting up car-free zones in all cities, organising car-free Sundays, expanding public transport and introducing speed limits. In Germany, for example, there’s no motorway speed limit in some places. It has been proven that speed limits reduce the fuel consumption of cars.

The government should also work to install solar panels on all buildings that don’t already have them and to connect them to the electricity grid. Each of us can also play a part by turning down our thermostats by one degree, which in turn reduces the amount of energy we use.

How do you keep hope?

We have no other option! Sometimes I hear myself say the same things over and over again. But we’ve come a long way. Twelve years ago, when I started, I would try to make politicians aware of the importance of biodiversity. I had to start with the basics and explain what biodiversity and ecosystems are. Today, biodiversity has become a core topic in political discussions.

Text and interview: Katharina Grund

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