The scale of climate change in our time confronts our society with unprecedented challenges. The goal set in the Paris climate protection agreement (2015) is to keep the increase in global average temperature to well below 2°C above pre-industrial levels thus necessitating fundamental changes in all aspects of everyday life and the economy. This means, above all, to phase out fossil fuels as far as possible, to increase energy efficiency and to expand the use of renewable energies.
Energy transition, i.e. the development – based on renewable energy sources - of an energy system fit for the future, provides good opportunities to our own biosphere reserves for further advancement of their social, ecological and economic development. On the other hand, this confronts biosphere reserve regions with new challenges, because the expansion of renewable energies is bound up with demands on the utilisation of space which run into conflict with nature conservation requirements and which may affect a landscape’s appearance. In this context, wind and hydropower as well as large-scale photovoltaic plant – in view of their structural impacts – are likely to represent the greatest conflict potential. On the other hand, the use of renewable energy sources can also provide synergies in our endeavour to achieve nature conservation objectives, such as the moderation of climate change by means of the valorisation of biomass resulting from land management. Changes in the use of open spaces by the installation of technical plant for energy production (e.g. wind power, large-scale photovoltaics, hydropower utilisation) or large-scale monocultures planted for energy crops, can lead to considerable impacts on ecosystems and the scenic value of landscapes thus causing a decline in the quality of a biosphere reserve. Moreover, such impacts can trigger conflicts with local residents.
In our domestic biosphere reserves we are increasingly confronted with questions regarding renewable energies. That is why the Austrian MAB National Committee has prepared a position paper which was discussed at an international workshop held in the Biosphere Reserve ‘Großes Walsertal’ in 2016. This workshop was entitled ‘Forms of Renewable Energy in Biosphere Reserves – what is permitted?’. It was attended by external experts who took part in discussions on this subject, which helped to clarify and progress our position.
This position paper is intended to provide recommendations and guidelines on sustainable production of renewable energies for anyone involved in the administration of a biosphere reserve and for lawmakers, in strict accordance with UNESCO’s international criteria and our relevant national guidelines. This is to give biosphere reserves the chances and opportunities to guide and support Austria’s ‘energy transition’ in a way that is largely free from conflict and will enable them to become model regions for the socially and ecologically sustainable production of renewable energy. By achieving their development goals, Austrian biosphere reserves can contribute significantly to the implementation of Agenda 2030.
Please note that the position paper is focused on Austrian biosphere reserves and is thus based on the legal, environmental and social framework in Austria. In consequence, it might be somewhat difficult to transfer the views of the Austrian MAB Committee to other countries. Nevertheless, we are convinced that our paper may serve as valuable resource for dealing with similar issues in other regions of the world.