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New research has revealed that thousands of renewable energy facilities are located within globally important biodiversity areas - degrading habitats and threatening species. The international research team, including Dr James Allan who is conservation ecologist at the University of Amsterdam, mapped where solar, wind and hydropower facilities are located within wilderness, protected areas, and Key Biodiversity Areas. Their findings are now published in the prestigious scientific journal Global Change Biology.

Guanacos in Chilean Patagonia. One of Earth's last remaining wilderness areas. Credits: Francisco Hidalgo.

The research team found over 2,200 renewable energy facilities, already operating inside important biodiversity areas, with over 900 currently being built. Dr José Rehbein from the University of Queensland is lead author of the study and says he is extremely alarmed by the findings: ‘Energy facilities and the infrastructure around them such as roads and increased human activity can be incredibly damaging to the natural environment. Many of these developments, when not well planned for, are not compatible with biodiversity conservation.’

World biodiversity

The study, led by the University of Queensland, showed that the majority of overlaps occur in western Europe and developed nations. But the next wave of conflicts - those facilities currently being constructed in important biodiversity areas - mainly occur in Asia and Africa, which still hold much of the world’s biodiversity.

Senior author Dr James Allan from the UvA Institute for Biodiversity and Ecosystem Dynamics, explains: ‘Effective conservation efforts and a rapid transition to renewable energy are both essential to prevent species extinctions and avoid catastrophic climate change. We recognise that transitioning to renewable energy is crucial for reducing carbon emissions – but the key is ensuring that renewable energy facilities are built in places, and in ways, where they do not damage biodiversity.’

The team urges governments, industry and development organisations to proactively plan the expansion of renewable energy facilities to avoid important conservation areas. They stress this issue needs immediate attention, especially considering the renewable energy sector is expected to grow tenfold by 2060, as nations strive to meet ambitious sustainable development goals. Allan concludes: ‘To be truly sustainable, renewable energy developments must consider biodiversity as well as carbon - and avoid any negative impacts.’

Publication details

José A. Rehbein, James E.M. Watson, Joe L. Jane, Laura J. Sonter, Oscar Venter, Scott C. Atkinson, James R. Allan: ‘Renewable energy development threatens many globally important biodiversity areas’, in Global Change Biology (2020). Link: https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/abs/10.1111/gcb.15067

Contact Person

dr. J.R. (James) Allan

Conservation ecologist