At the end of the European summer, two million soaring birds head south towards Africa. Their route, along the Red Sea/Rift Valley flyway, is the second most important flyway for soaring birds in the world. However, just as these areas are essential to the birds’ survival, so too are they vital for human populations, and host a growing concentration of development and energy infrastructure. If power lines and wind turbines are poorly sited along the flyway, the cumulative impacts can add up to threaten entire bird populations. All countries along the Rift Valley fall under the UN ‘developing economy’ category and are potential recipients of international and/or regional investments for national growth, including through credits for energy infrastructure development. International Financial Institutions (IFIs) have a significant role in providing this financial and technical support, so environmental safeguard policies are vital to guide sustainable development. The Migratory Soaring Birds (MSB) Project is working with IFIs, and has successfully strengthened biodiversity concerns in their safeguard policies, standards and guidelines. The Project is implemented by BirdLife International, funded by the Global Environment Facility (GEF) and supported by the United Nations Development Program (UNDP). This case study focuses on achievements at the intergovernmental level of the IFIs and their investments; biodiversity mainstreaming at the national level is covered by a case study from Egypt. The MSB Project works in 11 countries along the flyway, from Syria to Ethiopia, and aims to mainstream migratory soaring bird considerations into the sectors along the flyway that pose the greatest risk to safe migration, while promoting activities in sectors that could benefit from the birds (target sectors are agriculture, energy, hunting, tourism and waste management).
The MSB Project emphasises that mainstreaming birds and biodiversity into IFIs’ policies and projects makes a vital contribution to sustainable development and internationally agreed biodiversity conservation goals. Through the endorsement of the Paris Declaration on Aid Effectiveness and the associated Accra Agenda for Action, for instance, IFIs and donor organisations have made various commitments that can support NBSAP updates and implementation processes, as follows:
- align aid to country priorities - which should be expected to include NBSAPs;
- use national systems where possible, including for environmental assessment;
- promote a harmonised approach to environmental assessments, including addressing global environmental issues, in line with broadly accepted best practices;
- deepen their engagement with civil society; and • design and implement programmes in ways that are consistent with international commitments on environmental sustainability.
One example of how IFIs approach environmental sustainability is provided by the International Finance Corporation (IFC) Safeguard Policy, which encompasses a set of Performance Standards (PS) on social and environmental risk. Standards address, for instance, the need for comprehensive Environmental Strategic Impact Assessments (ESIA) (PS1), and for adherence to the mitigation hierarchy, which has the starting objective of avoiding harm to biodiversity (PS6).
The Red Sea/Rift Valley flyway is used by two million migratory soaring birds, comprising 37 species, including a range of raptors, storks, pelicans and cranes, five of which are globally threatened. By their very nature soaring birds not only have a high risk of collision with wind turbines and power lines, but their populations are vulnerable to stresses as many are long lived with slow reproduction rates. These birds rely on warm air currents over land to glide, creating bottlenecks in certain passages where they are especially vulnerable. Particular harm is likely to occur where developments coincide with these migratory bottlenecks. In order to address this concern, the MSB Project committed to work with a range of stakeholders involved in the energy sector, including development banks and funding organisations. Some were not aware of the adverse impacts of their well-intentioned investments in renewable energy, and lacked the dedicated resources and ESIA procedures to identify and address the risks to birds along the flyway.
BirdLife and its national Partners initiated activities by building relationships and developing trust with IFIs. The IFIs received robust evidence of the national, regional and international environmental impacts of their investment, while also getting guidance and customised tools to address the impacts. Some of the actions were as follows:
- BirdLife and its national Partners built up close contacts with those IFIs that invest in key countries along the flyway. They stressed the relevance of the project’s goals to IFIs’ existing commitments to minimise adverse impacts on biodiversity. • The most up-to-date technical and scientific information on migrating birds demonstrated the need for the IFIs to make appropriate investment decisions and avoid conflicts between energy development and conservation, including by involving and consulting BirdLife.
- IFI energy conferences and environmental policy reviews provided critical opportunities for the MSB Project to actively engage in discussions, provide input and influence decisions; for example, the review process of the environmental safeguards policies and standards of the World Bank Group.
- The MSB Project assigned staff in the region to establish key contacts in IFIs and national agencies. These staff also assist with EIAs, review proposed and existing investment projects, and thus drive progress towards project goals.
- Guidance on wind farms and power lines was developed for donors and investors (as well as for other stakeholders such as governments, civil society and technical guidance for developers). These address the potential impacts on birds, the need for strategic planning, and the role of IFIs to ensure biodiversity concerns are taken into consideration in proposals and contracts. Guidance includes practical steps that can be taken before developments (during planning), as well as construction, operation and monitoring.
- A Soaring Birds Sensitivity Map gives investors and others access to information on the distribution of birds and the most vulnerable areas along the flyway. This map can be used as a support tool to identify potential bird risks in site selection.
- Advice to IFIs drew on evidence from coordinated bird surveys and monitoring in affected countries, and from the IUCN Red List of threatened bird species.
BirdLife and IFIs found common ground in terms of shared commitments to renewable energy and environmental sustainability. This paved the way to raise awareness of the impacts of investments on migratory soaring birds, and to work together to mitigate these. BirdLife’s strong scientific reputation, combined with global reach through its national Partners, helped to develop trust with IFIs. Coupling advocacy with the provision of practical solutions, including the development of ground-breaking tools and guidance, proved to be a major factor for success. This resulted in very positive changes, as IFIs reduced the unintended adverse impacts of their lending.
As a result of the project team interventions, concerns about adverse impacts of wind energy developments on birds were updated and expanded in the World Bank Group’s Environmental Health and Safety Guidelines for wind energy. These are in place and apply to all five members of the World Bank Group, including the IFC. The Guidelines cover risks such as collision and habitat degradation, as well as concerns about turbine location, migration routes and other elements related to biodiversity. This document also promotes the MSB Project tools, including the Soaring Bird Sensitivity Map, to help with the selection of sites for development. Although it has not been yet possible to track impacts on bird populations of the application of these new safeguards and guidance, these nonetheless represent major achievements upstream in the decision-making chain, that is, at the international policy level. The MSB Project team is currently considered a major player and adviser on the impacts of energy development on migratory birds, and has been actively participating in discussions around new investments in the region. There is also progress at the level of project implementation, where IFIs are addressing the negative impacts of poorly planned investments. By way of illustration, the IFC is investing in four new wind farm developments in the Tafila region, Jordan. BirdLife has been invited to join the advisory committee of the Cumulative Effects Assessment (CEA), and a number of its recommendations have been taken up, such as more stringent standards for operating processes. The case study ‘Integrating Protection of Migratory Soaring Birds into Egypt’s Renewable Energy Sector’ describes further mainstreaming at national-level.