Climate change, energy and the Natura 2000 network

What is the impact of climate change and renewable energies on biodiversity and the Natura 2000 network? IUCN Regional Office for Pan-Europe carried out a project funded by the European Commission in cooperation with a number of partners which sought to assess this impact and formulate some recommendations for future biodiversity policy in the European Union.

Moiry Dam in Valais, Switzerland

The Natura 2000 network is the centrepiece of biodiversity and conservation policy of the European Union. As such, the network is one of the main vehicles for achieving the 2010 Biodiversity Target. Climate change, however, may have significant negative impacts. The study examined the vulnerability to climate change of some species which is an essential indicator to develop appropriate adaptation measures.

On the basis of existing and projected effects of climate change on biodiversity, the study highlighted that the current direct impact will become more serious in the future and indirect impacts have to be tackled with even greater attention. Both direct and indirect impacts may delay the implementation of biodiversity legislation as they complicate procedures.

The study assessed the impacts on biodiversity of climate change mitigation technologies thought to be the vanguard of the future expansion of EU renewable energy (RE) infrastructure, as well as some promising novel technologies yet to breach the market.

Although impacts were found to be highly case-specific, the authors deduced that, on a per-unit-energy-output basis, hydropower schemes inflict the heaviest impacts on biodiversity with the lowest potential for mitigation. However, it is important to note that unlike other RE technologies, hydroelectric dams can serve multiple functions in addition to electricity production, such as flood control and water provisioning for irrigation, industrial use, and direct human consumption.

Amongst mainstream RE technologies, offshore wind farms were deemed to inflict the lowest impacts on biodiversity and, with adherence to best practice, potentially confer net benefits to biodiversity. These benefits are attributable to the exclusion of commercial fishing pressure and the ‘artificial reef effect’ of the submerged structures.

Another important consideration made in the report is that there is the risk that as climate change is seen as the overriding environmental concern by the international community, biodiversity-friendly policies and measures could experience reduced implementation and enforcement. On the other hand, the rise of climate change to the top of the political agenda is also an opportunity as it keeps the attention of the international community focused on the need for increased protection of the environment.

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