What is the relationship between clean energy and biodiversity? At a global level, renewable energy certainly causes less pollution in the life cycle of a project than traditional fossil fuels – and mitigating climate change will safeguard many vulnerable ecosystems worldwide. However at the local level, all energy development carries a cost for the landscape and biodiversity. Even wind and solar have an impact on the natural landscapes where they’re placed.
A new article in Cool Green Science, The Nature Conservancy, addresses how little we know about how energy development impacts biodiversity and natural landscapes. It draws from a paper in Bioscience, which discusses this relationship and pinpoints a potential solution to how planners and conservationists can quickly obtain the knowledge they need to ensure that development does not harm natural lands and the benefits that they provide.
“We need more focus on ecological systems and less on individual species,” says Joseph Kiesecker, lead scientist for The Nature Conservancy’s Global Conservation Lands Program and author on the study.
The State of the Science on Energy Development Impacts
Led by Nathan Jones and Liba Pejchar of Colorado State University, the team of researchers examined all known research on the effects of oil, gas, and wind energy development on ecosystems, including: wildlife mortality, habitat loss, habitat fragmentation, noise and light pollution, invasive species, and changes in carbon stocks and freshwater resources.
They revealed that our existing scientific knowledge is extremely species and site specific. Research often focuses on the impacts of one type of energy development on one species — for example, how oil production in northeast Wyoming could impact the declining greater sage grouse. And, a majority of this science comes from North America, which will not help predict environmental impacts in other regions of the world such as the Caribbean basin.
Shifting to a Landscape Perspective for Future Mitigation
Kiesecker explains that conservationists don’t have the time, energy, or funding to conduct all of the scientific studies needed to fully understand how development will impact a specific place or individual species before development begins.
The good news is that there are steps that conservationists can take now to fill in gaps in the science. “What we can do, relatively cheaply and quickly and well, is to understand the landscape-scale consequences of development,” he says. “Then plan to minimize those impacts.”
The team’s paper recommends that planners should try to understand how energy development will fragment the landscape, and what mitigation measures can be put in place to keep the ecosystem functioning around and within developed areas. Encouragingly, Kiesecker says that a good bit of data exists to do just that.
This approach is especially important for small island states, many of whom like Jamaica, are quickly rolling out new energy projects.
“We don’t have a thoughtful, carefully planned energy strategy anywhere in world,” he says. “We need to get ahead of curve and understand the landscape-scale impacts of development before it happens, so we don’t keep making the same mistakes.”
Source: Justine E. Hausheer, The Nature Conservancy, Cool Green Science