Science & Innovation | WWF-Canada
© Michel Gunther / WWF

Science and Innovation

Habitat-friendly renewable energy

Left unchecked, climate change could push one in six species to extinction. Because fossil fuels are the single biggest contributor to greenhouse gas emissions, WWF-Canada is committed to seeing Canada use 100 per cent renewable energy by 2050.
Switching to renewable energy will slow the warming of the Earth, reduce deforestation, desertification, erosion and flooding, as well as diminish disastrous fossil fuel spills in our oceans and watersheds and invisible but deadly methane leaks into our atmosphere.
With tremendous wind, solar, hydro and biomass potential, as well as the longest coastline in the world and some of the highest tides, Canada is home to significant renewable energy reserves. We can make renewable energy Canada’s source of power, creating jobs at home and expertise to export. It is possible.
But like all energy projects, there is potential for conflict with nature. WWF-Canada is pioneering approaches to renewable energy deployment that is habitat friendly for every energy type: on land, in freshwater, marine and Arctic environments

Mapping our energy potential

If planning doesn’t account for biodiversity, migratory patterns or sensitive habitats, renewable projects, like other forms of development, can have major – and sometimes irreparable – consequences on nature. To help fill that void, we have created  a habitat-friendly renewable energy tool that maps both sustainable energy potential and areas with significant conservation value, so government and industry can quickly make informed decisions that benefit all species, including people.
We are also demonstrating that habitat-friendly renewable energy is feasible in harsh environments by working to transition three Arctic communities away from diesel, and supporting the development of habitat-friendly tidal power generation in the Bay of Fundy, which has the highest tides in the world.

What is habitat-friendly renewable energy?

We need a system that takes species and biodiversity into account before money and countless hours are invested. We need certainty early in the development process so renewable energy projects can move ahead quickly without harmful impacts on the environment. Timely action is needed to avoid and reduce the wide-ranging impacts of climate change.
To ensure at the outset that renewable energy projects are habitat friendly, WWF-Canada has adopted a robust conservation framework to identify and evaluate biodiversity concerns as well as community needs.

Putting it all together

Once accounted for, these values can be mapped and paired with renewable reserves – to quickly and clearly see where energy potential is high and impact on environment or communities is low.
In some cases, a “critical” weighting could be applied: for example, for wind, solar and offshore wind in bird sanctuaries; for hydro, wind and solar in wildlife areas and national parks; for tidal where biodiversity is known to be rare, threatened or highly sensitive to disturbance; and in places where legal protections are already in place.
This habitat-friendly renewable energy approach allows investors and developers to analyze their proposed landscape for species at risk, determine if they are biodiversity hotspots or if they’re of cultural significance for Indigenous or other peoples – and then, before investing further, determine if they should select another less harmful and conflict-prone area that also has significant renewable energy reserves. 
Solar energy.
© Kevin Schafer / WWF

Putting it to the test

We put this tool to the test in New Brunswick and the Bay of Fundy, a large region with ample data and resources, as well as shifting demands and options in the energy mix.

We identified key ecological values, determined their relative sensitivity to six types of renewable energy (solar, on- and offshore wind, tidal, biomass and hydro), and mapped hotspots of biodiversity within the Saint John River and Bay of Fundy regions.

You can now see the results of those efforts in our first-pass tool for informed decision making on habitat-friendly renewable energy.

© Garry BROECKLING / WWF-Canada