Spatial planning : the big gap
Ecosystems and their services are degraded and habitats are fragmented through poorly planned and implemented development, and more indirectly through the cumulative impact of uncontrolled land use change and land sealing (e.g. urban sprawl). A systematic and integrated approach to spatial planning lies at the core of a more sustainable use of the space and land that is at our disposal in Europe.
Especially in times of financial crisis, priorities need to be set straight: direct benefits for nature and human well-being can be drawn from this as well as a reduction of potential future public costs through a better regulation of short term private benefits. The recent example of the combined effects, of harmful coastal development and sea-level rise on Portugal’s coastline and its local communities shows the dramatic social consequences and enormous costs that bad planning practices can have. The severe erosion on 30% of the coastline may force a relocation of the local population.
Energy infrastructure: Reaching climate targets in harmony with nature
The current EU push for the development of cross-border power lines, with the aim to achieve ‘energy security’ but also in order to enable greater use of renewable energy sources, needs to be planned well to avoid unnecessary impacts on the natural environment. Experience with the development of renewable energy capacity shows both good and poor practices in EU Member States. The key to success, for nature, for investor certainty and for public acceptance, is inevitably good and integrated spatial planning.
Some technologies are inherently high risk for biodiversity, such as new hydro dams or tidal power barrages, and others are very low risk, such as roof-mounted solar panels. With most renewable energy technologies however, such as onshore and offshore wind, large-scale solar, wave, tidal stream and bioenergy for heat and power, biodiversity impacts will depend on where and how development takes place.
BirdLife Europe’s analysis of National Renewable Energy Action Plans found that these ‘medium risk’ technologies account for 80% of additional renewable energy consumption expected in Europe to 2020. Promoting the right technologies for the right locations is central to avoiding harm, and can be achieved through strategic spatial planning and through early and constructive dialogue between policy makers, developers and conservation NGOs. Differences in approaches to onshore wind power development across Europe illustrate clearly the benefits of avoiding harm in these ways (Renewable energy and nature conservation).
Increasingly, renewable energy developers and grid operators recognise the importance of avoiding unnecessary harm to biodiversity in planning new developments. The Renewables Grid Initiative is an innovative coalition of grid operators and environmental NGOs, exploring ways to improve the public acceptability of new power lines that the EU needs to accommodate for a high share of renewable energy. The European Grid Declaration on nature conservation, and other RGI initiatives to build dialogue and trust, show how much can be achieved where NGO and industry stakeholders come together to find common ground ( Renewables Grid Initiative).