Quantifying Biodiversity Trade-Offs in the Face of Widespread Renewable and Unconventional Energy Development

Document Type


Publication Date



© 2020, The Author(s). The challenge of balancing biodiversity protection with economic growth is epitomized by the development of renewable and unconventional energy, whose adoption is aimed at stemming the impacts of global climate change, yet has outpaced our understanding of biodiversity impacts. We evaluated the potential conflict between biodiversity protection and future electricity generation from renewable (wind farms, run-of-river hydro) and non-renewable (shale gas) sources in British Columbia (BC), Canada using three metrics: greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, electricity cost, and overlap between future development and conservation priorities for several fish and wildlife groups - small-bodied vertebrates, large mammals, freshwater fish – and undisturbed landscapes. Sharp trade-offs in global versus regional biodiversity conservation exist for all energy technologies, and in BC they are currently smallest for wind energy: low GHG emissions, low-moderate overlap with top conservation priorities, and competitive energy cost. GHG emissions from shale gas are 1000 times higher than those from renewable sources, and run-of-river hydro has high overlap with conservation priorities for small-bodied vertebrates. When all species groups were considered simultaneously, run-of-river hydro had moderate overlap (0.56), while shale gas and onshore wind had low overlap with top conservation priorities (0.23 and 0.24, respectively). The unintended cost of distributed energy sources for regional biodiversity suggest that trade-offs based on more diverse metrics must be incorporated into energy planning.