Hydro power, solar and wind installations pose a threat to key conservation areas, research has shown.
Over 2,200 green energy plants have been built within the boundaries of the remaining wildernesses of Earth.
Around 17% of renewable facilities globally are located in protected regions and a further almost 900 plants are now being built in key areas of biodiversity across the globe.
Over the last 20 years, renewable energy facilities around the world have tripled and are continuing to grow. Green energy facilities are usually larger than fossil fuel power plants, with wind and solar needing areas of ground up to 10 times more than coal or gas to produce the equivalent in energy.
Researchers say that these facilities have subsequently been built in areas of great environmental significance and pose a large threat to key natural habitats.
12,500 of these installation locations were mapped by a team. It was found that more than 2,200 of them were built in wilderness, protected regions and key biodiversity areas. Even worse, 169 of them were found in strictly managed protected areas were no building or development activity should occur at all.
Lead author Jose Rehbein, from the University of Queensland, Australia said, “Energy facilities and the infrastructure around them, such as roads and increased human activity, can be incredibly damaging to the natural environment.” and “These developments are not compatible with biodiversity conservation efforts.”
Researchers say that the energy projects like solar farms often necessitate new roads, and the people who come in to service these facilities sometimes build settlements near them.
European countries, particularly the western side, are the worst offenders at the moment. Germany being the worst culprit as they currently hold 258 facilities in key conservation areas.
Spain has similar numbers to Germany and across the other side of the world, China holds at 142. A surprisingly low number considering the lack of industrial regulations they have.
A big concern for the researchers and the rest of the globe is the probable expansion in demand for renewables, particularly in Africa and Asia.
A 42% increase is the number we could see in energy facilities across important conservation lands over the next 8 years. India and Nepal, for example, hydro-power is undergoing a real boom of late. 100 facilities within protected areas inhabit Nepal, while India on the other hand has 74 under construction in conservation zones.
Dr James Allan from the University of Amsterdam expresses his annoyance at the lack of planning and seeing into the future, “In most cases it’s just weak planning.” He continues to elaborate… “So in the Selous world heritage site in Tanzania, the government has just given the go ahead for a massive dam, a huge hydropower project which will really destroy a large area of that national park.”
Over the past 18 months to 2 years, there has been a growing concern among ordinary people about the extinction crisis being seen around the world and much research has been linked to the climate crisis.
With various agreements among the best part of developing countries around the world, the irony is that they are increasing the threat to already delicate species when these installations are installed in conservation areas.
Greater care must be taken when planning and permitting these renewable facilities. It is not just a question of bad planning, but a question of moral and ethical principals.
The study has been published in the journal, Global Change Biology.
Credit: Matt McGrath – Environment correspondent – BBC News