Renewable energy and biodiversity: Implications for transitioning to a Green Economy

Elsevier, Renewable and Sustainable Energy Reviews, Volume 70, April 2017, Pages 161-184
Authors: 
Alexandros Gasparatos, Christopher N.H. Doll, Miguel Esteban, Abubakari Ahmed and Tabitha A. Olang

This literature review identifies the impacts of different renewable energy pathways on ecosystems and biodiversity, and the implications of these impacts for transitioning to a Green Economy. While the higher penetration of renewable energy is currently the backbone of Green Economy efforts, an emerging body of literature demonstrates that the renewable energy sector can affect ecosystems and biodiversity. The current review synthesizes the existing knowledge at the interface of renewable energy and biodiversity accross the five drivers of ecosystem change and biodiversity loss of the Millennium Ecosystem Assessment (MA) framework (i.e. habitat loss/change, pollution, overexploitation, climate change and introduction of invasive species). It identifies the main impact mechanisms for different renewable energy pathways, including solar, wind, hydro, ocean, geothermal and bioenergy. Our review demonstrates that while all reviewed renewable energy pathways are associated (directly or indirectly) with each of the five MA drivers of ecosystem change and biodiversity loss, the actual impact mechanisms depend significantly between the different pathways, specific technologies and the environmental contexts within which they operate. With this review we do not question the fundamental logic of renewable energy expansion as it has been shown to have high environmental and socio-economic benefits. However, we want to make the point that some negative impacts on biodiversity do exist, and need to be considered when developing renewable energy policies. We put these findings into perspective by illustrating the major knowledge/practices gaps and policy implications at the interface of renewable energy, biodiversity conservation and the Green Economy.