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The influence of the global electric power system on terrestrial biodiversity


Given its total contribution to greenhouse gas emissions, the global electric power sector will be required to undergo a fundamental transformation over the next decades to limit anthropogenic climate change to below 2 °C. Implications for biodiversity of projected structural changes in the global electric power sector are rarely considered beyond those explicitly linked to climate change. This study uses a spatially explicit consumption-based accounting framework to examine the impact of demand for electric power on terrestrial vertebrate biodiversity globally. We demonstrate that the biodiversity footprint of the electric power sector is primarily within the territory where final demand for electric power resides, although there are substantial regional differences, with Europe displacing its biodiversity threat along international supply chains. The relationship between size of individual components of the electric power sector and threat to biodiversity indicates that a shift to nonfossil sources, such as solar and wind, could reduce pressures on biodiversity both within the territory where demand for power resides and along international supply chains. However, given the current levels of deployment of nonfossil sources of power, there is considerable uncertainty as to how the impacts of structural changes in the global electric power system will scale. Given the strong territorial link between demand and associated biodiversity impacts, development of strong national governance around the electric power sector represents a clear route to mitigate threats to biodiversity associated with efforts to decarbonize society over the coming century.

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