The Climate Change Committee (CCC) published a major report on the future of renewable energy in the UK today.

The RSPB has welcomed the report and its headline conclusion that renewable energy has serious potential to deliver in the UK. Why? Because wildlife is already feeling the heat from climate change and, in the longer term, climate change is likely to become a major driver of extinctions – one study in Nature concluded that up to 37% of species could be committed to extinction by 2030 as a result of climate change.

The UK must therefore do its bit to lead the world in cutting carbon emissions radically, and the CCC have clearly shown how this could be achieved. The Britain in 2030 that they describe is cleaner and greener, and, if the Government introduces the right safeguards now, we can deliver the windfarms and other renewable energy the CCC prescribe whilst minimising the impacts on wildlife.  

The first and most pressing challenge this report puts to Government is to demonstrate its support for renewable energy, particularly as since coming in to power, the Coalition have been unclear about their long-term aspirations for renewables. The CCC have previously advised that the UK should commit to reducing our emissions by 60% by 2030; and in this report they recommend we commit to a minimum level of support for renewables in 2030. Adopting this advice would send a clear message that this Government believes in a low-carbon, renewable energy future.

Alone, however, this commitment would put those who love wildlife in a difficult place. On the one hand, renewable energy developments like windfarms can damage birds and wildlife. On the other, climate change promises mass extinctions and continued reliance on fossil fuels comes at the additional expense of risks of environmental disasters like that caused by Deepwater Horizon.

The RSPB believes that a renewable energy revolution in harmony with nature is possible. Windfarms and other renewable energy schemes can be built with minimal impact on wildlife. But only if Government takes immediate action to ensure developers act responsibly.

The CCC recognise this in their report. They note that the planning system in England is not delivering sustainable renewable energy, and that the Coalition’s planned reforms may make matters even worse. They also recognise the success that the Scottish Government has had in delivering wind power, and the critical role that ensuring wildlife is properly protected has played in this. This has been achieved by being strategic in their approach, guiding the industry towards the most appropriate sites, and ensuring that the organisations like the RSPB are consulted and listened to.

If we want wind energy to work in England, this strategic approach needs to be emulated. The alternative is developers working with no guidance and no support, leading to conflict, delays, and, ultimately, missed targets and a continued reliance on fossil fuels.