Reliance on fossil fuels is causing unprecedented climate change and is accelerating environmental degradation and global biodiversity loss. Together, climate change and biodiversity loss, if not averted urgently, may inflict severe damage on ecosystem processes, functions and services that support the welfare of modern societies. Increasing renewable energy deployment and expanding the current protected area network represent key solutions to these challenges, but conflicts may arise over the use of limited land for energy production as opposed to biodiversity conservation. Here, we compare recently identified core areas for the expansion of the global protected area network with the renewable energy potential available from land-based solar photovoltaic, wind energy and bioenergy (in the form of Miscanthus × giganteus). We show that these energy sources have very different biodiversity impacts and net energy contributions. The extent of risks and opportunities deriving from renewable energy development is highly dependent on the type of renewable source harvested, the restrictions imposed on energy harvest and the region considered, with Central America appearing at particularly high potential risk from renewable energy expansion. Without restrictions on power generation due to factors such as production and transport costs, we show that bioenergy production is a major potential threat to biodiversity, while the potential impact of wind and solar appears smaller than that of bioenergy. However, these differences become reduced when energy potential is restricted by external factors including local energy demand. Overall, we found that areas of opportunity for developing solar and wind energy with little harm to biodiversity could exist in several regions of the world, with the magnitude of potential impact being particularly dependent on restrictions imposed by local energy demand. The evidence provided here helps guide sustainable development of renewable energy and contributes to the targeting of global efforts in climate mitigation and biodiversity conservation.
- conservation planning
- environmental impact avoidance
- spatial conservation prioritization
- species richness