25th October 2023

Biodiversity and Net-Zero: Evaluating the Environmental Conscience of the Energy Transition

The shift towards more sustainable methods of electricity generation has gained increasing attention in the effort to secure the future of our planet, society, and economy. Technologies such as wind turbines, solar panels, and biofuels offer renewable energy sources while reducing dependence on established fossil fuel infrastructure and trade agreements for energy security.

While the continued advancement of these industries is a positive step towards achieving critical net-zero and climate goals, it's essential to recognize the interconnectedness of the climate emergency and the biodiversity crisis. Preserving land and wildlife is a central theme in biodiversity investment. Awareness of the intrinsic value of natural resources, which underpins all economic activities, is growing. The COP 15 Biodiversity conference in 2022 established global targets and frameworks, including a commitment to protect at least 30% of land and water ecosystems by 2030. This reflects the increasing global understanding of the need to safeguard our planet for future generations and calls for investors to consider the value of natural capital and species abundance when evaluating sustainable energy production methods.

Balancing the imperative for cleaner, sustainable energy, especially technologies with substantial land use requirements like onshore wind and solar panels, with the need to minimize additional strain on natural resources is a complex challenge. Investors must assess the impacts on biodiversity resulting from land use and the overall net impact potential of sustainable energy production.

The Nature Conservancy champions the cause of achieving better conservation outcomes and integrating it as a fundamental aspect of the clean energy transition, as outlined in its Power of Place Principles. This approach recognizes the challenges of finite land availability and the need to protect fragile ecosystems while addressing the substantial growth required to achieve net-zero targets. The report suggests that early-stage planning, careful project siting, and the use of wildlife-friendly technologies can simultaneously benefit conservation and net-zero efforts. Achieving this balance requires access to leading research resources and capabilities and expertise to identify promising companies, making it crucial for responsible investors.

Regulations and incentives play a significant role in ensuring that biodiversity is not compromised for the sake of clean energy growth, as demonstrated by recent developments in the US. The Inflation Reduction Act of 2022 includes measures to encourage the transition to sustainable energy, such as tax credit incentives for developing clean energy projects on previously used land and supporting communities with historical ties to fossil fuel industries.

Financial incentives are driving the US residential solar market, with the 30% solar tax credit introduced in 2002 further accelerating solar panel installations. While economic reasons are the primary driver, environmental considerations are a close second, indicating a positive future for clean energy adoption. Increased residential solar adoption could boost clean energy production and raise awareness of clean energy's importance among younger generations.

While the enthusiasm for investing in clean energy technologies is commendable, it must be guided by a holistic and thoughtful approach that considers the long-term interests of all stakeholders. As The Nature Conservancy report emphasizes, there is no one-size-fits-all solution to these complex challenges. Investors must conduct thorough analyses of risks and opportunities to ensure the most effective use of capital in supporting both the energy transition and biodiversity protection and restoration. Only then can we confidently participate in long-term growth that delivers responsible investment outcomes for both clients and the planet.