Specials Environment
AGENDA 21 10 Land resources 11 Deforestation 12 Desertification 13 Mountains
14 SARD 15 Biodiversity Climate Energy

Progress Report
FAO, June 1997
Sustainable energy

The challenge

Energy use in most countries is unsustainable in the long term, from both natural resource and environmental points of view. In rural areas throughout the developing world, the situation is more critical. The main - and often only - sources of energy for household use and food production are diminishing supplies of fuelwood, along with biomass residues and human and animal power. Dependence on these traditional energy sources is associated with poverty, health risks and human drudgery.

The "energizing" of the food production chain - both quantitively and qualitatively - based on diversified sources and a better use of commercial energy is one key to achieving food security and improving the living conditions of rural populations. However, breaking the current energy bottleneck must also be sustainable - environmentally sound, socially acceptable and economically viable.

The challenge is also an opportunity. By using the potential offered by renewable energy sources, agro-ecotechnologies, and innovative institutional and financial arrangements, rural areas could "leapfrog" to more sustainable energy systems and food security. These rural areas could become examples to other sectors of society, both in developing and industrialized countries.

There is, however, a danger. The energy sector is undergoing a rapid shift toward high energy efficiency, renewable energy sources, lower intensity industry and energy recycling. Agriculture will also move towards greater sustainability thanks to techniques such as organic farming, improved water and soil management, integrated pest management, mechanization and biotechnology.

The challenge in the medium term is to harness these changes for the benefit of the rural poor. If not, there is a risk that rural populations will be excluded from the shift to sustainability, and left to face either chaos in rural areas or massive emigration to urban centres.

Progress since UNCED

Although Agenda 21 has no specific energy Chapter, energy issues are raised throughout the document, in the context of topics such as protection of the atmosphere, consumption patterns, environment, sustainable agriculture and rural development.

Since UNCED, progress has been achieved in energy development in several countries, regions and technological areas. Many countries are moving more rapidly toward renewable energy in rural areas. Examples include a wind energy programme for electrification in India, construction of thousands of biogas digesters in Nepal, use of solar photovoltaic generators in rural Zimbabwe, and decentralized renewable energy systems based on solar, wind and biomass energies in Argentina.

At national level, innovative financial schemes are finding their way into national and international policies and strategies, partly in response to declining government intervention, cost-reflecting pricing of energy carriers, and the abolition of subsidies. New avenues for dissemination of decentralized energy systems include local credit schemes, liberalized energy markets, energy services leasing systems and cooperative arrangements, all of which can benefit the rural poor.

At the international level, the ratification by 159 countries of the Framework Convention on Climate Change opens opportunities for new energy programmes leading to higher levels of sustainability. International financing through the Global Environment Fund and others, directed specifically to a net reduction of greenhouse gas emissions, has increased substantially.

Nevertheless, progress is weak, given the scale of the challenges. For example, achieving the food security targets of the World Food Summit requires a four- to sevenfold increase in commercial energy. This will, obviously, not happen under a "business as usual" approach.

Key issues

Strategies for sustainable development through planned energy inputs must rely on a convergence between national development policies and goals and locally perceived and identified priorities. Critical issues concern:





The role of FAO

The Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) helps integrate energy as a tool for food security and sustainability, develop renewable energy sources adapted to the needs of rural populations, and foster efficient use of conventional energy sources.

Assessment and planning. FAO has promoted national frameworks for sustainable energy in Asia, helped establish a Latin American and Caribbean Working Group on Energization for Sustainable Rural Development (GLAERS), and published a study on energy needs in African agricultural in the year 2010.

Renewable energy technologies. Regional wood energy networks in Latin America and Asia are promoting more efficient end use of wood as a modern energy carrier. FAO's biofuels programme covers such technologies as anaerobic digestion of organic wastes and residues, organic recycling, pyrolisis and briquetting. Solar energy applications include solar drying and solar cooking, heating, water pumping, communications, lighting, greenhouses and refrigeration.

Rural mechanization and draught animal power. FAO promotes introduction of machinery, tools and alternative technologies to rural areas, taking into account specific farming systems and agro-industrial activities. FAO supports the draught animal equipment components of agricultural mechanization projects and the improvement of animal systems for food production and other farm uses.

Integration of energy sources. Activities in this area include integration of alcohol production from sorghum with biogas, pyrolysis, solar and wind systems and energy conservation; and assessment of the potential of various renewable sources of energy in specific farm activities.

Institutional arrangements

While no international institution deals with energy as a whole, many institutions are active in different energy fields. FAO collaborates directly with a number of them, particularly those concerned with energy for rural development. For example:

World Energy Council: Collaboration with the Steering Committee of the WEC Developing Countries Committee in a specialized study on Rural Energy to be presented at the 1998 WEC Congress in Houston, USA

UNDPSD: Collaboration in the preparation of documentation for the UN Committee on New and Renewable Sources of Energy and Energy for Development and to CSD.

UNDP: Collaboration in preparation of the document "Energy after Rio: Prospects and Challenges", to be published 1997. Executive Summary published March 1997.

Unesco: Participation in the World Solar Summit and in its follow up.

African Development Bank: Joint study and publication on Energy Requirements of Africa's Agriculture.

OLADE and ECLAC: Collaboration in the Programme of Work of the Latin American and Caribbean Working Group on Energization for Sustainable Rural Development (GLAERS)

ESCAP: Collaboration in implementation of the Rural Energy and Environmental Programme, which forms part of the broader programme PACE-E

FAO contacts

Gustavo Best
Senior Energy Coordinator
Tel.: 39-6-5225 5534
e-mail: Gustavo.Best@fao.org

Miguel A. Trossero
Senior Forestry Officer
tel.: 39-6-5225 4175
e-mail: Miguel.Trossero@fao.org

Carlos Repetto
GLAERS Secretariat
tel.: 598-2-298516
e-mail: glacler@adinet.com.ur

Wim Hulscher
RWEDP Regional Coordinator
e-mail: Wim.Hulscher@field.fao.org

Agenda 21 Progress: Introduction | 10 Land | 11 Deforestation | 12 Desertification | 13 Mountains | 14 SARD | 15 Biodiversity | Climate change | Energy

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