Nature is humanity’s most precious asset. Without it, human well-being, sustenance and prosperity are not possible. “Multiple ecosystems services are the basis of our societies and economies,” says Helene Chouinard, Biodiversity Specialist & Project Manager for WSP Canada.
In the past decade, we have collectively witnessed the cascading impacts of human activity on nature manifest in costly consequences. Extreme weather events brought on by climate change impacts have not only devastated communities but rendered high price tags. For instance, in 2018, Canada paid $1.9 billion to address the damages of severe weather events. And from the latest report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change we have learned that, “According to the key messages of the last global assessment of the Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES, 2019), climate change is a ‘direct driver that is increasingly exacerbating the impact of other drivers on nature and human well-being’, and ‘the adverse impacts of climate change on biodiversity are projected to increase with increasing warming’.”
These events have spurred a global reaction among world governments, private investors and the public, shifting their attention to the environmental, social and governance (ESG) objectives of corporations. There is now mounting pressure for companies to integrate ESG and biodiversity considerations into their operations and offer sustainable products and services. By way of example, knowing the adverse impact of fossil fuel-based energy on the natural environment, shareholders and consumers have started to show attention to renewable energy.
For the energy sector, this rising interest in renewable can be leveraged as an opportunity to emerge as a leader in the fight against biodiversity loss and climate change. “The energy sector may impact biodiversity in various ways depending on the types of infrastructure, energy sources, project design, chosen technologies, project footprint, operation mode as well as natural habitats and species associated with the project receiving environment. The effects include habitat loss and fragmentation, migration barriers, direct mortality of fauna individuals and more,” Chouinard says.
As of now, 84% of the world’s energy still comes from fossil fuels. By proactively embracing the transition in response to the growing demand, the energy sector can experience a wide range of benefits, including an enhanced reputation vital for capturing the attention of investors and regulatory approvals. This is because “the transition to renewable energy is an important step in the fight for climate change, which is expected to have adverse impacts on biodiversity worldwide,” explains Chouinard.
When it comes to the regulatory landscape, there is a long list of existing regulations concerning biodiversity that the sector must comply with. However, it is expected that regulations will evolve in tandem with the renewable energy landscape and developments in technology in the future.
Therefore, the energy sector and related public and private sectors must learn to efficiently adapt their operations to evolving government policies, international best practices, and changing consumer and shareholder preferences. Furthermore, “the energy sector must integrate biodiversity protection in its internal governance to improve its biodiversity performance, especially given that urbanization and the growing population and economy will lead to a rise in demand for energy,” says Chouinard.
The transition won’t come without challenges. “Changes in the regulatory landscape and sector will require mainstreaming biodiversity with an emphasis on impact mitigation hierarchy for all stakeholders, including suppliers, regulators, promoters, users and more” explains Chouinard. “The transformation to a renewable energy landscape will require significant public and private investment. It will also require a greater emphasis on project design to optimize the project footprint and reduce the impacts of infrastructure operation on biodiversity.”
The results, however, will be worth it. A healthy planet underpins our societies and economies, and preserving biodiversity is crucial to sustain ecosystem functions and associated flora and fauna. It is anticipated that the energy sector’s movement away from fossil fuels and its integration of biodiversity consideration into the project life cycle will result in improved biodiversity performance. This, in turn, may lead the energy sector to help secure a long and sustainable future for humanity.
To learn more about how WSP can help your energy operation with your biodiversity needs, contact Helene Chouinard.