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Energy Sprawl Solutions
Balancing Global Development and Conservation
By Joseph M. Kiesecker, David E. Naugle
ISLAND PRESSCopyright © 2017 The Nature Conservancy
All rights reserved.
Geography of Risk
James Oakleaf, Christina M. Kennedy, Sharon Baruch-Mordo, and Joseph M. Kiesecker
Human populations have a tendency to sprawl. Just look out the plane window as you leave any airport and you will likely see a city blending with agricultural fields for miles. With the aid of satellite imagery, this pattern can be witnessed on a global scale, revealing that urban and agricultural areas now make up over 40 percent of the Earth's land surface. Sprawl is also a critical issue for the energy sector. Energy sprawl is the product of the amount of energy produced and the land-use intensity of production. Production is the terawatt hours per year of energy and intensity is the square kilometers of habitat given over to that production.
Different types of energy vary widely in their footprint. Many of the renewable energy sectors that are desperately needed to combat climate change have very large spatial footprints. As human populations grow — expected to hit 9 billion by 2050 — and demand for energy soars in developing countries, something will have to give. The larger energy footprint of renewables will inevitably lead to trade-offs with land-use conversion. We will need to manage energy development in a way that can meet demands but also reduces the impacts on natural systems that support both human and wildlife populations.
Assessing Cumulative Risk
Proactively identifying lands at risk of conversion and strategically planning to mitigate future impacts is critical to achieve a sustainable balance between development and conservation. But striking this balance is only possible if we first understand where and how future development may occur. To do this we combined nine potential development threats to identify where current natural lands are at future risk of conversion or modification. We aggregated spatial patterns of expected energy threats from conventional and unconventional oil and gas, coal, solar, wind, hydropower, and biofuels, and merged these with nonenergy threats from mining, urbanization, and agricultural expansion to produce a global cumulative development threat map (fig. 1-1a). Next, we determined where high cumulative development threat overlapped with current natural lands to identify habitats at future risk (fig. 1-1b). We summarized the threat patterns by terrestrial biomes (the world's major ecological communities — e.g., grasslands or forests) and geopolitical regions to show where proactive conservation planning and subsequent actions might be beneficial. We combined energy and nonenergy footprints because natural areas without risk from one source of development may still be impacted by another, and proactively planning to mitigate for all potential sources of habitat loss or fragmentation is the only way to maintain large, intact landscapes for conservation and human well-being.
Natural Lands at Risk
New developments are likely to be dispersed across the globe, potentially affecting 20 percent of the Earth's remaining natural lands (fig. 11b). Currently, 21 percent of all biomes have half their natural habitats converted, and 57 percent have more than a quarter converted. Based on our study, future development could push half the world's biomes to more than 50 percent converted, and all biomes could lose over 25 percent of their natural lands (with the exception of boreal forests and tundra).
Although development risk is globally dispersed, we found that three biomes could be disproportionally affected. These contain 66 percent of delineated at-risk natural lands: tropical and subtropical grasslands, savannas, and shrublands (total area of 5.84 million square kilometers); deserts and xeric shrublands (total area of 3.7 million square kilometers); tropical and subtropical moist broadleaf forests (total area of 3.4 million square kilometers). Accounting for current and potential future development, three biomes could become predominantly human modified: tropical and subtropical dry broadleaf forests (83 percent); temperate broadleaf and mixed forests (72 percent); and mangroves (71 percent).
The geopolitical regions of Central America, Europe, and Southeast Asia face the most land conversion when factoring in future development threat. In contrast, Africa and South America, which are currently among the least modified regions, are predicted to have the highest amount of natural lands at risk (8.18 and 4.32 million square kilometers, respectively), potentially leading to future development doubling and tripling the amount of converted lands in South America and Africa, respectively.
Overall, only 5 percent of the at-risk natural lands have some form of legal protection that might prevent conversion. Existing land conversion combined with future potential habitat modifications highlight the need to act quickly in order to reduce impacts.
While our findings suggest future energy expansion across sectors is likely to be globally dispersed, there are sector-specific geographic patterns (fig. 12a–g).
Conventional Oil and Gas (COG). Worldwide, more than 100 countries are currently producing COG. Since many of the top developed COG basins are also those with the highest volume of untapped resources, our analysis predicts that, to a large degree, future COG will mainly consist of intensification of the basins already producing oil or gas (fig. 1-2a). Offshore COG (not examined in our study) may be one exception, where many resources remain unexploited or are in early stages of development.
Unconventional Oil and Gas (UOG). Recent technological advancements, including horizontal drilling in conjunction with hydraulic fracturing, have spurred a rapid increase in UOG production over the last decade. However, many of the areas with potential resources remain unproven to a large degree owing to both the technological and economic feasibility to remove the resource. Despite this uncertainty, UOG development has helped the United States become a net energy exporter. We found that several other countries, including Argentina, Russia, Mexico, Australia, and China, are poised to be in a similar position (fig. 1-2b).
Coal. Five countries (United States, Russia, China, Australia, and India) contain over two-thirds of the world's coal reserves and produce 75 percent of the world's coal. Although coal production and usage is expected to decline in response to global commitments to reduce CO emissions, projections show coal as a staple of energy use for several decades. We found that similar to conventional oil development, future coal development will consist largely of intensification in regions that are currently high producers, with those five top-producing countries likely to see the most coal expansion in the future (see fig. 1-2c).
Renewables. Renewable energy has the greatest potential for expansion and is estimated to surpass coal as the largest supplier of electricity by 2040. However, siting will be a challenge given the land-use intensity of all renewable energy sectors.
Biofuels. Most cropland expansion for biofuel production (or liquid fuels, mainly ethanol or biodiesel made from organic matter) will be located in tropical regions of the world. Our assessment shows land conversion threats from biofuel development is highest in tropical South America and Africa and in select areas in Southeast Asia (e.g., Indonesia) (fig. 1-2d).
Hydropower. Hydropower produces over 16 percent of the world's electricity and is the dominant renewable energy source across the globe, currently employed in more than 150 countries. We found that Southeast Asia, Africa, and South America are most threatened by future development — these countries happen to contain many of the longest free-flowing or undammed rivers (fig. 1-2e).
Solar. Two main types of technologies, concentrating solar power (CSP) and photovoltaic (PV), are used in utility-scaled solar power. Currently, solar power makes up less than 1 percent of global electricity demand but is the fastest growing renewable electricity sector. Only 50 countries produce solar power on a commercial basis. Our threat analysis shows that a large portion of the globe is suited for solar development, especially in much of Africa, the Middle East, India, Mexico, portions of Brazil and Chile, and the southwestern United States. (fig. 1-2f ).
Wind. Wind power generation has more than doubled in the last four years and currently meets 4 percent of the global electricity demand. More than 103 countries produce wind power on a commercial basis with high growth rates in the United States, China, and Eastern Europe. These three regions also have high potential for future wind development, as do portions of South America, East Africa, New Zealand, and Japan (fig. 1-2e).
A Solution: Proactive Landscape-Scale Mitigation
Given the scale of potential future energy development, society needs to dramatically change the way we plan for, regulate, and mitigate these impacts. Legally protected areas might not be able to steer development away from sensitive areas. Land-use planners must improve existing tools and create new approaches to address pending impacts. Environmental impact assessments (EIAs) are one of the chief tools currently used to mitigate impacts from energy development. EIAs, used with impact mitigation, are a systematic process to examine the environmental consequences of planned developments. These tools also emphasize prediction and prevention of environmental damage through the application of the mitigation hierarchy: avoid, minimize, restore, or offset. However, mitigation tools are conventionally implemented through a narrow spatial lens, at a project or site level that often results in uncoordinated, piecemeal mitigation that fails to deliver conservation outcomes at relevant ecological scales. Based on our assessment, we propose a shift in regulatory oversight with an eye toward regional-scale, cumulative impact assessments and proactive mitigation planning that better accounts for future development threats from multiple sectors.
As development encroaches into more remote and previously undisturbed areas, corporations, governments, development banks, and civil society groups must collaborate to avoid and minimize future impacts on remaining habitats. In an effort to change future trajectories, we propose that environmental licensing, impact mitigation, and financing should target where development could impact significant proportions of natural areas. Mitigation requirements should include procedures for proactively evaluating the compatibility of proposed development with conservation goals to determine when impacts should be avoided and when development can proceed. Given the expansive scale of expected impacts from a variety of sectors, developers will need to compensate for residual impacts through the use of biodiversity offsets.
Biodiversity offsets, also known as set-asides, compensatory habitat, or mitigation banks, can maintain or enhance environmental assets in situations where development is moving forward despite negative impacts. Future analyses that look at natural areas at greatest risk to cumulative development threats should be performed at finer (landscape) scales — for example, as done by Saenz and others in "Development by Design in Colombia." (See also chapters 3, 4, 5, 6, and 9 in this book.) These should be used to guide the siting of offsets so that the most ecologically important and at-risk areas are secured.
We thank Paul C. West and James S. Gerber (Institute on the Environment, University of Minnesota), Navin Ramankutty (Liu Institute for Global Issues, University of British Columbia), and Larissa Jarvis and Dany Plouffe (Land Use and Global Environment Research Group, McGill University) for providing technical assistance on agricultural and biofuel expansion threats; Bennett Holiday, Bob Barnes, and Bryan Woodman for helpful discussions; and all the data providers who publically provide their data, thus enabling research like ours. Funding for our analysis was provided by The Nature Conservancy, Anne Ray Charitable Trust, and The Robertson Foundation.CHAPTER 2
Challenges of a Green Future
Gert Jan Kramer
In the book Nature's Economy, the intellectual historian and writer Donald Worster describes how humans' view of nature has been bookended by two different intellectual traditions through the centuries: Arcadianism and imperialism. The idea of Arcadia is inspired by humans' desire to live in harmony with nature, while imperialism represents the equally human urge to dominate it. Most of us are torn between the two, dreaming about and striving for harmony with nature, yet in our actions we are utter imperialists.
In this chapter we explore the challenge of building a sustainable energy system. As we work toward a sustainable and mostly renewable energy system, we're perhaps guided by those Arcadian values, but the reality of such a system is steeped in the imperialism that has reshaped the Earth over the past millennia. A green future won't necessarily be one in perfect harmony with nature. Industrialization of the landscape is perhaps inevitable in the fight against a greater evil: a landscape completely changed for the worse by climate change.
Building a mostly renewable energy system demands concrete planning (and actual concrete!). Much of the talk about the energy transition overlooks the land requirements needed to build the solar panels and wind turbines and to grow the biofuels that will produce gigawatts and reduce CO. In this chapter we provide first-order estimates of the acreage that will be covered by solar panels, dotted with wind turbines, and inundated for hydro reservoirs, and the vast land claim associated with the sustainable production of bioenergy.
Plans on the Map
Land-use estimates for energy must start with projections of future energy use. For this we use the Shell New Lens Scenarios, along with more recent work by Shell that explores the makeup of an energy system with (net) zero greenhouse gas emissions.
Once we have an estimate of the future energy requirements, we can "put the plan on the map," to use a phrase coined by David MacKay, who did this for the United Kingdom. All that is required are estimates of how much the various renewable energy sources produce each year per square kilometer. Such estimates are necessarily indicative, as the numbers will vary from place to place (as for instance the difference in photovoltaic yield between sunny and not-so-sunny locations) and between different authors. We base ourselves here on work by Vaclav Smil, augmented by our own earlier estimates.
With these inputs, a first estimate of the impact of the energy transition can be done and — for Europe — is shown in figure 2-1.
In addition to a physical footprint, a renewable energy system will require greater integration across political boundaries given the variation in resource potential and seasonal variability of renewables. The European Climate Foundation's Roadmap 2050 illustrates this well. The report shows that the key requirements for an efficient and effective renewables-dominated European energy system are a regional differentiation of renewable energy production according to the local resource (in particular, wind in the north and solar in the south) and a strong physical integration of the energy grid across Europe to deal with the momentary and seasonal variability of renewables.
For the United States, a more near-term look at land-use impact of new energy deployment shows that nations have a choice as to how they develop their energy system. In the paper "Energy Sprawl or Energy Efficiency," the authors point out that in the absence of a strong focus on energy efficiency, energy policy targets in the United States would — already by 2030 — impact 200,000 square kilometers of land in the lower forty-eight states.
Excerpted from Energy Sprawl Solutions by Joseph M. Kiesecker, David E. Naugle. Copyright © 2017 The Nature Conservancy. Excerpted by permission of ISLAND PRESS.
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