Energy

Sustainable Development Goal 7

Ensure access to affordable, reliable, sustainable and modern energy for all

Overview

Energy is fundamental for socioeconomic development and poverty eradication. Access to energy is a basic right, just like access to water or food. Many forms of energy are the result of services provided by ecosystems, such as bioenergy and hydropower. Society’s growing requirements for energy are introducing significant changes in these ecosystems, both in the search for energy sources, and as a result of energy use patterns. For example, land degradation, loss of water catchments and sedimentation represent threats to water resources -- upon which most energy projects are dependent. The continuing provision of ecosystem services is important to energy production and it is crucial that we achieve Aichi Biodiversity Target 14. Energy, carbon storage and greenhouse gas emissions are intimately related and therefore Aichi Biodiversity Target 15 on conserving and restoring the carbon stocks of ecosystems would enhance the supply side of access to energy and contribute to climate change adaptation and mitigation, and thus ensure energy resilience.

Challenges

A secure energy supply is a vital issue for all countries today and, given that energy is a fundamental requirement for supporting development in all economies, the challenge is to sustainably provide it without driving further loss of biodiversity. As a result of the search for energy sources and of current energy use patterns, the dependence on and growing requirements for energy are resulting in significant changes in both species and ecosystems. The consequences can be seen at all levels: locally, where the availability of traditional biomass energy is under threat, nationally, where energy prices affect government policies; and globally, where climate change driven by fossil-fuel use is impacting ecosystems and changing species ranges and behaviour.

Different kinds of energy can lead to different impacts on biodiversity. For example, hydroelectric energy is a relatively clean source of energy but has had a profound influence on biodiversity, altering river flows, flooding natural habitats above dams and changing the seasonal flooding downstream that brings nutrients to floodplains, including productive agricultural soils. The demand for fuel wood and charcoal contributes to environmental degradation and deforestation as charcoal becomes a thriving yet unsustainable industry in forest areas with easy access to urban centres. In addition, high energy costs, and inadequate access to alternative energy sources for cooking create an incentive for poor communities to use more firewood from forests, thus contributing further to land degradation and affecting biodiversity. The majority of the 850 million urban slum dwellers rely heavily on such biomass fuel for cooking. The land use necessary for generating biomass energy, which in the form of wood, charcoal, forestry and crop residues currently provides approximately 10% of the world’s energy, is also needed to grow food crops or meet other human needs, including supporting biodiversity. While sustainable renewable energy production is expected to have positive effects on migratory birds by mitigating climate change and its impacts, deploying certain energy technologies without proper planning, design and risk assessment can pose a grave threat to all migratory bird species.

Consequently, as future economic growth crucially depends on the long-term availability of energy from sources that are affordable, accessible and environmentally friendly, it is necessary to define the trade-offs required, and develop appropriate mitigation and adaptation strategies.

Messages

  • Few energy sources have no impact on biodiversity, and energy choices need to be made with an understanding of the trade-offs involved in any specific situation, and the subsequent impacts on biodiversity and human well-being.
  • Ecosystems provide bioenergy and hydropower, and regulating services such as water flow and climate regulation, which offer co-benefits to the energy sector.
  • Land degradation, loss of water catchments, and sedimentation represent threats to water resources upon which most energy projects are dependent.
  • Proper land-use planning and the maintenance of biodiversity and landscape level can have positive benefits for hydropower, by reducing siltation and enhancing the lifespan of these energy projects.
  • Birds may suffer effects from habitat loss and degradation and other disturbances from the deployment of hydropower, bio-energy, ocean, solar, wind and geothermal energy technologies.
  • Restoring degraded ecosystems will support energy security for future populations, in addition to preventing desertification and contributing to climate change adaptation and mitigation.
  • Decreased amount of land available for food crops or other needs due to expanded use of land for energy production may have negative impacts on biodiversity and food security.