The energy conundrum

® Amy Lewis

With climate discussions underway in Paris, Trevor Codlin explores the thorny issue of energy supply, and makes the case for clean energy to protect our wildlife.

The COP21 discussions in Paris are considering a wide range of matters relating to climate change, including that on-going issue, energy.

We've seen it play out here in Hampshire and on the Isle of Wight, with the proposed Navitus Bay offshore wind farm being thrown out on the grounds of visual impacts – though its advocates suggest it could have provided 700,000 homes with clean, renewable energy.

At the same time as refusing permission for Navitus, the Government was consulting on the 14th round of oil and gas exploration licenses. This latest round included the option for shale gas exploration (otherwise known as ‘fracking’) and offered up the majority of the Isle of Wight and also parts of Hampshire for exploration.

Opponents of fracking have highlighted the potential impacts that it may have on local wildlife, the landscape and the environment, and claim that it hastens the onset of climate change, yet the Government seem committed to pursuing this path.

Meanwhile, cuts in public subsidies for renewable energy schemes have seemingly sent our solar industry into crisis. Even the Government’s recent announcement that they plan to phase out coal-powered stations was bittersweet for those of us hoping for a shift away from fossil fuels, as the coal stations are being replaced by others burning another non-renewable energy - gas.

This confused and unsustainable energy policy could ironically contribute to sea level rise and coastal erosion, and destroy the very views the Government wanted to protect when turning down the Navitus Bay application.

We're seeing the impacts of climate change here and now. A recent report by BirdLife International and the Audubon Society has demonstrated how numbers of some bird species, such as the Yellowhammer, have declined in response to warmer temperatures, while other species, such as the European Shag are predicted to suffer from more frequent events of mass mortality due to increased rainfall and onshore wind.

These issues will exacerbate the other pressures that they are experiencing and will undoubtedly contribute to their decline.

European shag on nest

© Darin Smith

‘Keeping the lights on’ is a challenge that has been wrestled over by successive Governments, experts and campaigners – but just as vital a discussion to have, is the contribution that fossil fuels make to climate change, and irreversible biodiversity loss.

By no means should every proposed renewable scheme get a free pass – as with other developments, they should be considered on a case-by-case basis. Such schemes should be located in the right place, for both people and for wildlife, they should provide appropriate mitigation against negative impacts, and include opportunities to create and improve local habitats as a result.

Unless we see proper commitment from the Government to a much-needed shift to renewable energy sources, we will not only fail local wildlife in the short term, but our wider environment and communities in the long term.