Growing energy demands, together with the urgent need to transition to renewable energy, have led to plans to put up more than five million kilometres of new power lines across Africa over the next five years. Egypt plans to generate 20% of its energy from renewable sources by 2020. Although well-intentioned, these plans need to be implemented in ways that mitigate risks to migratory soaring birds, which are threatened by collisions with wind turbines and electrocution on power lines. Each year around two million soaring birds pass over Egypt, as they fly along the Red Sea/Rift Valley flyway between wintering grounds in Africa and breeding grounds in Europe and Central Asia. The risks of poorly situated and designed renewable energy projects are exacerbated by the cumulative impacts of development along the flyway. The Migratory Soaring Birds (MSB) Project was set up in 2008, to mainstream conservation into sectors that pose risks to, or could benefit from, migratory soaring birds along the Red Sea/Rift Valley flyway (energy, waste management and tourism in Egypt, as well as agriculture and hunting in other countries). The project works in 11 countries; it is implemented by BirdLife International, financed by the Global Environment Facility (GEF) and supported by UNDP. In Egypt’s energy sector, the key partners are Nature Conservation Egypt (national BirdLife Partner), the National Renewable Energy Authority (NREA), and the Egyptian Environmental Affairs Agency (EEAA). The results in Egypt range from major changes to wind farms, to new national guidance to regulate energy development. This case study is complemented by a further case on the biodiversity safeguards of International Financial Institutions (IFIs).
As a party to the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD), Egypt is committed to mainstreaming biodiversity into diverse sectors (as per Aichi Target Strategic Goal A, to “Address the underlying causes of biodiversity loss by mainstreaming biodiversity across government and society”). Egypt’s Fifth National Report to the CBD (2014) recognises the ongoing challenge of biodiversity mainstreaming (p.128), and highlights the work of the MSB Project (p.82-83). Under the Convention on Migratory Species, Egypt is signatory to two instruments relevant to species that use the Red Sea/Rift Valley flyway: the Memorandum of Understanding on the Conservation of Migratory Birds of Prey in Africa and Eurasia (MOU Raptors), and the Agreement on the Conservation of African-Eurasian Migratory Waterbirds (AEWA). The MSB project aligns with these commitments, as well as Aichi Target 12 on threatened species.
Egypt is situated at a critical point along the Red Sea/Rift Valley flyway. Migratory soaring birds rely on hot air currents to glide, so they must migrate over land, leading to bottlenecks at crucial passages such as crossing areas in the Gulf of Suez and the Red Sea. The flyway then follows narrow corridors along the Red Sea coasts and Nile Valley. MSB project mapping showed that major migration bottlenecks coincide with some of the most promising areas for wind farms, where incautious energy development could be disastrous for birds. The MSB project focuses on 37 species of soaring birds, including raptors, storks, cranes and pelicans, five of which are globally threatened and found in Egypt. Challenges encountered by the project ranged from limited understanding of the flyway concept, to difficulties in influencing energy development and national regulation. The action taken: Building trust between the MSB Project team and the energy sector has been fundamental. Two key public bodies are the NREA and EEAA. The NREA is tasked with achieving 20% of energy from renewable sources, and is a key entry point for biodiversity mainstreaming within the industry. The EEAA is committed to conserving migratory birds and is responsible for reviewing Environmental Impact Assessments (EIAs) for energy projects, and monitoring impacts after construction. The EEAA hosts the MSB team, which is thus well placed to influence decision-makers. Nature Conservation Egypt (national BirdLife Partner) works with the EEAA, providing technical support. Formalising relationships was a crucial step. In December 2012, the MSB Project, the NREA and the EEAA signed an MOU that provides a framework for cooperative working. The MOU set the ground for the project team to gather evidence on the impacts of wind farms on migrating birds, and share this with decision-makers.
Further actions include the following:
- BirdLife International produced technical materials covering the steps for EIA, planning, construction, management and monitoring of energy developments. • Regular bird surveys provide data that not only informs decisions on future developments, but also supplements previous EIAs, some of which had suggested that wind farms would be sustainable even in critical bottlenecks and Important Bird and Biodiversity Areas (IBAs).
- A Soaring Bird Sensitivity Map identifies species distribution along the Red Sea/Rift Valley flyway. Together with survey results, this enables developers and planning authorities to site developments appropriately.
- Communication emphasises the region’s tradition of hospitality towards visiting guests, and birds’ role in preserving a healthy environment. Focal points from the project and the authorities follow up after official monthly meetings, supplemented by field visits, events, media and other documents. The MSB Project also implemented the following actions to mainstream bird biodiversity into the tourism and water treatment industries.
- A partnership with Jaz Hotels, Resorts & Cruises (a national hotel chain) is developing a ‘flyway-friendly’ tourism certification, raising awareness of the spectacular bird migration, and undertaking site management for birds migrating through hotel grounds, based on the MSB project’s guidelines for flyway-friendly hotels.
- There is a signed protocol between the Environment Ministry and South Sinai Governorate to protect birds at the Sharm El-Sheikh water treatment ponds, where tens of thousands of storks congregate during the autumn migration. • In 2015 one bird watching tower was inaugurated at these ponds, and another at Ras Mohammed National Park, where training helps local tour guides understand the valuable biodiversity.
- A handbook was launched on “Maximising the value of birds and wildlife for bird watching tourism”.
The MOU between the MSB Project, NREA and EEAA proved to be the cornerstone for agreements on integrating biodiversity into the energy sector. Strong leadership and communication were critical to reach the point where this could be signed. Another enabling factor was the interest from IFIs such as KfW in avoiding harm to migratory soaring birds. A strong counter-argument to mainstreaming biodiversity into renewable energy was the economic cost of modifying practices. If a fixed shutdown procedure were to be applied, electricity loss could amount to about 9% of the total generated in one migration season. However, the shut-down-on-demand system reduces the loss to 2.2%. The MSB project is collecting data under the two different schemes, to provide robust, comparable evidence of the impact of each on bird populations. However, achievements made so far already demonstrate remarkable progress. Reaching a compromise between the values of energy loss and values of bird conservation was the key.
As a result of the MSB Project, the EEAA and the NREA put policies in place that embed biodiversity concerns into energy development. In fact, the EEAA and NREA have not only incorporated guidelines from the project, but are increasingly driving the work forward to reduce harm to migrating birds. For instance, EIA Guidelines and Monitoring Protocols for Wind Energy Development Projects have been adopted as national regulations and apply to all new energy developments. These will reduce impacts on birds, not least through guidance on shutdown-on-demand systems, which shut off wind turbines temporarily at critical times for birds. The NREA has an allocated budget for surveys and post-construction monitoring, and includes bird migration studies in all wind farm projects. NREA staff speak on behalf of bird conservation at events. One example of implementation of improved policies comes from Gabal el Zait, the largest area of wind farms in Africa. The first pilot wind farm is financed by the German development bank KfW and inaugurated in 2015. This is testing a protocol for shut-down-on-demand, developed by the MSB project, which uses radar to monitor migrating birds and inform decisions on shutting down turbines. It is also testing measures such as post-construction monitoring. Another result from the MOU implementation is a Strategic Environment Assessment (SEA) supervised by the EEAA, across a vast area of 255 km2, covering more than 26 projects, in response to a request from the NREA. Wind farms across the Gulf of Suez will be managed through one Active Turbine Management System, which should take account of migrating birds.