Energy, Biodiversity & Climate

Successful climate protection requires a rapid energy transition that also reflects the biodiversity of nature. In other words, we should intervene in nature as little as possible, while we will source electricity and heat only from renewable sources.

Protection of climate and nature hand in hand

The global climate crisis has a particularly strong impact on Austria, a mountainous country located in the heart of Europe. While the global temperature increase between 1880 and 2018 was around one degree Celsius, in Austria it has already been two degrees!

The climate crisis is therefore threatening Austria's biodiversity, the richness of our nature: Alpine glaciers are shrinking, the life zones of many animal and plant species in the mountains are shifting upwards and thus displacing others. In the summer months, Austria is increasingly affected by longer and more frequent heat waves with temperatures above 35 degrees Celsius, but also by devastating storms.

Furthermore, the ever more frequent floods and droughts are causing economic losses running into billions.

Resistance to renewable energies

Quick reaction is vital. In its climate and energy strategy #mission2030, the then federal government also stipulated that Austria should only use domestic green electricity from 2030. The expansion of renewable energies plays a central role in this context.

However, the expansion of renewable energies will not be without impact on the environment and biodiversity. Hydroelectric power plants have a deep impact on river habitats. Wind farms can be dangerous for birds and bats. Biomass power plants increase the demand for wood and for land for energy crops. Photovoltaic plants installed in grassland seal valuable soil. Last but not least, it seems necessary to expand or at least rebuild the electricity grids to meet the changed requirements of a renewable energy system.

As a result, resistance is stirring in many places against the expansion of renewable energies and extra-high voltage transmission lines in order to protect valuable natural areas. These conflicts cost Austria valuable time on its way to climate neutrality. Countermeasures have to be taken now, otherwise the conflicts will increase.

In order to protect the climate, Austria can completely abandon the fossil energy system by 2050 without loss of biodiversity if we halve our energy consumption. Otherwise we would be forced to move into particularly sensitive habitats with renewable energies. Moreover, the land required would increasingly compete directly with food and feed production in agriculture. All this mobilises people against energy projects.

Resistance to energy projects often arises for two reasons: 

  1. Specific threats to nature, habitats and species
  2. Mistrust and rumours fuelled by lack of transparency and lack of or inappropriate communication

Both causes can be reduced or even completely avoided by properly implemented cooperation with the public. Environmental protection organisations and science offer expertise, data and experience that are sometimes not available to the planners themselves. By involving the public in the early planning phase of energy projects, potentially sensitive impacts on biodiversity can be identified in time and solutions found.

In order to meet both a rapidly established renewable energy system and the protection of biodiversity, this challenge must be tackled as early as possible. ÖKOBÜRO is therefore working on solutions that reconcile the protection of climate and biodiversity. Entitled Together for really green power, we developed basic recommendations for the biodiversity-friendly energy system transformation. In addition, we are dedicated to solving conflicts surrounding the expansion of the power grids.

Read on: Using the SEA to resolve disputes already before power grid EIAs are initiated

Read on: All pulling together for the protection of nature in the expansion of renewables