Bioenergy: the future
The future of bioenergy is uncertain. The promise of clean, renewable energy makes it a tempting choice but the real costs and benefits are not so simple to calculate. As some talk about a global energy revolution, whilst others start pointing to land grabs, food security issues and a dangerous offsetting tendency in the global North, IIED have started looking into the urgent and critical questions surrounding the debate.
New and groundbreaking research has started to explore two angles of thought: firstly, can developed countries hit their emissions targets by importing woody biomass for their energy needs; creating jobs and investment, without depriving some of the world’s poorest of their land rights and creating food insecurity? Secondly, as non-OECD countries are disproportionately reliant on biomass energy, in places where access to alternative energy sources for heat and cooking is not a feasible option, are the clean technologies available and ready to turn this trend into something sustainable?
In a North-South-South partnership, a coalition project for Ecosystem Services and Poverty Alleviation (ESPA), entitled, ‘Biomass energy: optimising its contribution to poverty reduction and ecosystem services’ started the ball rolling on the impacts on individual countries as the expansion of biomass gets underway. Work was undertaken in Kenya, Malawi, India, and from a wider, international perspective. This resulted in a series of country reports and the groundbreaking publication: ‘Bundles of Energy: The case for renewable biomass energy’.
Land grabs have been a hot topic on the international side of this equation, and research has also started on the implications of foreign investments in biomass energy on land rights – what is the true cost of the global rush for biomass?
These issues are two sides of the same coin. A great deal more research is needed to find honest answers that work for all countries, assuring global energy needs whilst upholding long-fought for rights. There may well be a global energy revolution – but IIED will be working with partners to ensure the right questions are being asked, every step of the way.
Forest Connect: an international alliance tackling the isolation of small forest enterprises.