Wednesday, May 09, 2007

UN Report Evaluates Bioenergy Trade-Offs For Decision Makers

May 8: The fast-growing bioenergy industry offers many opportunities, but also involves a number of trade-offs and risks, the United Nations said in its most comprehensive review of the likely impact of the emerging bioenergy market. The report indicates, “The economic, environmental and social impacts of bioenergy development must be assessed carefully before deciding if and how rapidly to develop the industry and what technologies, policies and investment strategies to pursue." The document, Sustainable Energy: A Framework for Decision Makers, was prepared by UN-Energy, a group of all UN agencies programs and organizations working in the area of energy. It was sponsored by the Rome-based UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO).

UN-Energy Chair Mats Karlsson of the World Bank said, “The purpose of the study was to help ensure that the energy needs of people are met and the local and global environment is adequately protected. We hope to use the collective strength of the UN system to affect change”.

The report points out the many benefits of bioenergy systems in relation to poverty alleviation, access to energy services, rural development and rural infrastructure. It reviewed the likely impact of bioenergy in terms of food security, climate change, biodiversity and natural resources, employment and trade. It also identified the vital points decision makers need to consider and stresses that, “Unless new policies are enacted to protect threatened lands, secure socially acceptable land use, and steer bioenergy development in a sustainable direction overall, the environmental and social damage could in some cases outweigh the benefits”. Regarding the use of some grains as a biofuel feedstock, UN-Energy noted, “In general, crops that require high fossil energy inputs (such as conventional fertilizer) and valuable (farm) land, and that have relatively low energy yields per hectare, should be avoided.” It is noted that even “sustainably"-produced energy crops could have negative impacts if they replaced primary forests, “resulting in large releases of carbon from the soil and forest biomass that negate any benefits from biofuels for decades.”

Additionally, the report indicates, that the availability of adequate food supplies could be threatened by biofuel production as land, water and other resources were diverted from food production. Similarly, food access could be compromised by higher basic food prices resulting from increased bioenergy feedstock demand, thus driving the poor and food insecure into even greater poverty.

The FAO also introduced its International Bioenergy Platform (IBEP), a 26-page document, to the international community in the energy, agriculture and environment sectors as a mechanism for organizing and facilitating a multidisciplinary and global approach. IBEP is expected to provide analysis and information for policy and decision-making support; to build and strengthen institutional capacity at all levels; to enhance access to energy services from sustainable bioenergy systems; and to facilitate opportunities for effective international exchange and collaboration.

In a related matter, the Global Bioenergy Partnership (GBEP) unveiled its website on May 9, which was launched at the GBEP’s 3rd Steering Committee meeting, taking place in New York during the 15th session of the UN Commission on Sustainable Development. The site provides information on the Partnership, which was created in May 2006 to promote the use of bioenergy and whose secretariat is hosted at FAO. It also offers links to sources of information on bioenergy and features news and a regularly updated list of bioenergy events.

Access a lengthy release on the report and links to related information (
click here). Access the complete 64-page report (click here). Access the IBEP document (click here). Access a release on the GBEP website (click here). Access the GBEP website (click here). [*Energy]