By Alice Collier, Policy Officer

Following last week’s bad news, we promised some good news. A bit of #MondayMotivation is in order!

Last Wednesday, whilst making some seriously misguided decisions on bioenergy, the European Parliament did recognised that more coherence is needed between Europe’s energy development priorities and nature protection concerns. A number of important measures were included in the Clean Energy package of draft legislation, and, importantly, a damaging new proposal was rejected. MEPs also showed leadership with a strong call for a higher renewable energy target and a new strategy to tackle methane, a highly potent greenhouse gas.

As we continually highlight, climate change is one of the greatest risks to wildlife and so we must act quickly and effectively to reduce greenhouse gas emissions to address this challenge. However, badly planned renewable energy and power line projects can themselves be highly damaging to wildlife. Last week’s vote was a small but significant victory for our natural environment as the need to better reconcile renewable energy and biodiversity conservation was recognised (in part) by the European Parliament.

What have MEPs included in their position?

For the recast Renewable Energy Directive, MEPs have:

-        supported strengthening the renewable energy target to 35%, improving the Commission proposal of 27%. Whilst still lower than the level necessary to deliver on the Paris agreement commitments (45% by 2030 would provide a greater chance of delivering net zero by 2050, the Parliament’s position is at least a step in the right direction.

-        introduced a requirement for Member States to take a more strategic approach to renewable energy planning that includes spatial planning, and more specifically analysis of ecological risk.

In the Governance of the Energy Union Regulation, an important new regulation that will guide how Europe approaches the wider energy transition, they have:

-        called for National Energy & Climate Plans to include assessment of nature protection impacts of policies and plans;

-        rejected a damaging proposal that sought to confer priority status on large scale renewable energy projects, threatening to trample all over the very Nature Directive protections we have all fought so hard to maintain;

-        supported establishing a new platform for dialogue between civil society, local authorities and governments

-        backed plans for a specific strategy to tackle methane emissions in the EU - half of all greenhouse gas emissions come from livestock farming, and methane is also produced when natural gas is extracted and burned.

So, what next?

Before getting too excited, we must remember that while we may have won this battle, there is still a long way to go yet. Parliament will now enter negotiations with the Council representing national governments. Member States are yet to recognise the benefit to them individually, and collectively, of taking a strategic spatial approach to energy planning. Time and time again, we and our Birdlife partners across Europe continue to see badly-planned renewable energy projects come forward into the planning system as our governments gallop ahead with renewable energy delivery at lowest short-term cost.

The MEPs who will now enter into negotiations with the EU Council will need to stand strong on the need for this link up between energy planning and wider environmental concerns, to help ensure that Europe sets itself on a path to a truly sustainable energy future.

Taking nature and wider sustainability issues into account in energy planning isn’t just about protecting wildlife. If embraced by national governments during negotiations, the approach supported by parliament can:

-        achieve emission reductions faster, by:

  • reducing costly and time-consuming conflicts with civil society (that we would all rather avoid!)
  • giving confidence to the industry and investors of project success, reducing investment risk
  • helping to mobilise strategic investment in well-located supporting infrastructure  and innovation
  • improving societal acceptance of energy and powerline development

-        reduce the need for mitigation, restoration and compensation by focusing on low impact sites

-        highlight ecological data gaps and help target research efforts to reduce uncertainty

-        help identify opportunities for multi-benefit projects that deliver biodiversity enhancement and clean energy

-        deliver on multiple Sustainable Development Goals at once

-        demonstrate open and transparent governance of the energy transition

It sounds like simple common sense for Governments to take an approach that would help deliver all this, doesn’t it? Here’s hoping they recognise the opportunity this legislation provides to set the European energy transition on the right track, before it is too late.