The last international reports from the Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES) sent out alarm signals: biodiversity continues to decline across the world, under the pressure of human activity. It is thus the occasion to stress the role electricity can play for a sustainable energy approach and to look at progress that remains to be accomplished.
In view of those facts, and while France will host in 2019 the plenary session of the IPBES and in 2020 the 7th World Conservation Congress (IUCN) in Marseille, the government has decided to place biodiversity at the heart of its environmental priorities. First, N. Hulot, Minister for the Ecological and Inclusive Transition launched in May a public consultation on the Biodiversity Plan, second pillar of his policy together with the Climate Plan, whose results should be presented by the beginning of the summer. Second, the Parliament is currently debating the government’s proposal to include in Article 1 of the Constitution that France “acts for the preservation of the environment and biological diversity and against climate change”.
Climate change is one of the main causes of the erosion of biodiversity. French electricity, as one of the most carbon-free electricity in Europe, already contributes to the low-carbon footprint of our country. But it is possible to go further by substituting consumption of high-carbon energy with low-carbon or carbon-neutral energies, such as electricity but also bioenergy, with respect to the available resources.
Limiting greenhouse gas emissions and resources consumption
Another major cause damaging the biodiversity is the consumption of natural areas and the overexploitation of resources. From this point of view, all production technologies have significant impact both on-site and off-site. It is therefore essential to continue the efforts made by the electricity industry to promote energy efficiency. Furthermore, choices regarding the production mix must integrate a global approach of the challenges without opposing the sectors against each other. On the contrary the best use of their complementarities must be made: centralized and high capacity installations can deliver an abundant energy on a small area while more decentralised and more space-consuming sectors can develop in priority in cohabitation with other pre-existing activities, especially on already artificialized or degraded areas.
Mainstreaming good practices implemented at the level of each project
Beyond the major strategic orientations, all the infrastructures of the French electricity system – i.e. the means of generation and the grid –have a potential impact on the biodiversity that should not be denied, but on the contrary that should be clearly identified and limited, following the logic “avoid-reduce-compensate”. Through the proper planning and conception of upstream projects, the generalisation of good practices both in the planning of construction works and in operating methods, and the use of initiatives such as reforestation or habitat rehabilitation, many examples show that solutions exist to reduce the impacts of electricity infrastructures throughout their life cycle.
While it is desirable to seek to valorise, and generalize those good practices, it is necessary to go further not only to limit threats but also take full advantage of the opportunities that biodiversity projects can represent in a given territory. On land or at sea, the implementation of new projects can have positive consequences for a biodiversity subject to high pressure due to multiple human activities, by limiting the pressures existing on their habitat or by creating new habitats such as the “reef effect” at the bottom of renewables installations at sea.
French electricity is one of the key answers to the environmental question. The French electricity sector has been at the forefront of energy efficiency and the development of non-CO2 emitting technologies, saving on fossil resources and integrating solutions to preserve biodiversity. However, all too often, energy, climate and biodiversity issues are addressed separately, in silos, or even frontally opposed. UFE hopes that the current debates will be an opportunity to seek in public policies the conciliation of those different objectives and to privilege synergies that exist between them.