What is biodiversity? How is it related to climate? What can we do to protect it? What is our responsibility as human beings? To discuss this complex issue, Trends Shaker Live invited two experts: Pauline Millot, CSR & Innovation Officer at ENGIE France Renewables, and Bruno David, naturalist specialised in palaeontology and sciences of evolution and biodiversity, and President of the French National Museum of Natural History.
According to the latest IPCC1 and IPBES2 reports, climate change and the erosion of biodiversity are two crises that are closely related. While climate change enhances the risks for the diversity of living species, ecosystems are essential for capturing carbon and slowing down global warming. The good news is that nature is extremely resilient, and we can reverse the erosion of biodiversity very quickly. According to the IPPC, if we restructure the damaged ecosystems and protect 30-50% of land, water courses and oceans, we will be able to benefit from nature’s capacity to absorb and stock carbon.
Reconnecting with nature
For naturalist Bruno David, reconnecting Man with nature is a matter of urgency. “We have long considered ourselves to be separate from nature: humans on one side, nature on the other. We are now realising our inter-dependency with the rest of the living world, and it is a bit like being on a football pitch: we are not the referee, we are not the coach, but we are part of the team,” he explained. As an eco-optimist, he believes that the future is in our hands: “We have plenty of room for improvement if we want to protect diversity, whether as individual citizens, governments or companies. And it is the worst situations that have the most room for improvement, because that is where the most progress can be made!”
Improving understanding to improve protection
Companies have a part to play, as Pauline Millot explained: “We make strong commitments to understand our footprint on the living world and the climate. Creating, promoting, and designing renewable energy projects that are increasingly sustainable in the long-term is part of ENGIE’s DNA. For every new renewable energy production project -wind farms, photovoltaic solar plants, hydroelectricity, and biogas-, we work with ecologists, design offices, environmental organisations and the local territories to make sure we understand the behaviour of local species and how best to protect them. This pool of complementary expertise helps us to define the project that best respects local biodiversity, that is the most efficient in terms of energy and the most suitable for the territory,” she declared.
“In practice, we carry out impact studies in the field to identify the major challenges, the natural habitats and species concerned, as well as the interactions and ecological functionality of each site. These studies enable better implementation of what we call the avoid-reduce-compensate sequence, which aims to avoid damaging the environment, limit the damage that cannot be sufficiently avoided, and compensate for the significant effects that can be neither avoided nor sufficiently limited. Analysis of this sequence sometimes leads us to give up certain projects. In Eastern France, for example, two major wind farm projects at an advanced stage of consideration were abandoned to preserve a local bird of prey, the red kite, which is a protected species on the red list of the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN).”
Innovation inspired by nature
We have a lot to learn from biodiversity. And biomimicry proves that nature can be a source of inspiration. “A few years ago,” related Pauline Millot, “having received complaints about the noise generated by wind turbines, we were looking for a way of reducing the impact of the blades when they carve through the wind. Where better to look than nocturnal birds of prey? Their flight must be extremely quiet and smooth, to enable them to hunt at night. We drew inspiration from the feathers of the barn owl and Eurasian eagle-owl to design small combs to be added to the trailing edges of the blades to break up the little whirlwinds that form around the blades causing the noise.”
Biodiversity observation for all
We can all improve our understanding of biodiversity. All we must do is open our eyes, according to Bruno David: “Take a magnifying glass outside and pay attention to your surroundings, examine the smallest details. Biodiversity is everywhere.” Although he deplores a lack of curiosity and knowledge of natural history, the naturalist reminded us that schools are a fantastic driver to develop interest and observation skills. In a similar vein, Pauline Millot and the teams of ENGIE France Renewables created a biodiversity observatory in December 2021 with Vigie-Nature (the participative science unit of the Natural History Museum), the French committee of the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) and Université Paris Saclay. What does it aim to do? “To enable ecology students to come and observe biodiversity within the boundaries of ENGIE’s renewable energy production sites. The students can thus put their knowledge into practice as well as learning more about potential professional opportunities. We draw inspiration from their ideas to further improve the preservation of our ecosystems. It is a win-win partnership!” pointed out the ecologist.