Posted April 2000
FAO and bioenergy
Bioenergy1 issues and biofuels2 have been on FAO's agenda for decades. In the context of the mitigation of climate change, biofuels have gained renewed attention.
Issues connected with bioenergy are:
- Current energy systems in industrialized countries are largely based on the use of fossil fuels.
- Worldwide, more than 50 percent of the wood harvested is used as fuel. For some developing countries fuelwood consumption represents over 80 percent of wood harvested.
- In some cases the use of fuelwood contributes to severe forest degradation and deforestation.
- On the other hand, sustainable production and utilization of biofuels enhance rural livelihood systems and substitute fossil fuels, thus contributing to climate change mitigation.
Related problems to be solved are:
- A large part of rural populations in developing countries barely cover their energy subsistence needs, let alone have access to energy for enhancing their productive activities. Access to adequate and affordable energy is a prerequisite for equitable socio-economic development.
- Biofuels are often neglected in political, economic and social agendas.
- Reliable national resource and production data on biofuels to support policy-making processes are often not available.
- Efficiency levels of biofuel utilization, in particular of fuelwood, charcoal, and lifestock manure, are generally low, especially in the use of cooking stoves.
- Inefficient and unsafe use of biofuels can lead to health hazards.
Production and use of biofuels as an energy source are linked to a host of issues, such as agriculture and food security, land use and rural development, sustainable forest management and biodiversity conservation, and mitigation of climate change.
Bioenergy has to be seen in its relation to poverty, population development and health. The fact that women and children in many rural areas spend a good portion of their working day in search of fuelwood, reflect the need to look at bioenergy in the context of gender roles and survival strategies for the poorest of the poor.
To be resolved are imbalances between household economy and environment, between conservation and consumption of biofuels and between present and future needs of societies.
In the meantime, ways of producing and distributing conventional energy are changing as a result of such new approaches as privatization, decentralization, trade liberalization and globalization.
- stresses the potential of biofuels as locally available,renewable sources of energy. This refers particularly to rural areas in developing countries, where they have been the mainstay of energy generation and not only generate energy, but also more gender-balanced rural employment and income, contributing to strengthened rural livelihood systems and better levels of food security. In areas endowed with forest and/or agroindustrial by-products (residues and wastes), biofuel production, including electricity to be delivered to power grids, has a future, and is becoming increasingly competitive.
- recognizes the importance of new technologies for the utilization of bioenergy as an industrial energy source at competitive market prices.
- realizes the importance of improving the efficiency, effectivity and safety of biofuel utilization in order to increase its contribution to the betterment of rural livelihood systems.
- is aware of the threat to forests and trees outside forests if fuelwood is used in an indiscriminately and unsustainable way, resulting in forest degradation or deforestation, deterioration of watersheds, and the loss of soil fertility as well as biodiversity.
- notes that a substitution of fossil fuels through growing utilization of biofuels will contribute towards a cleaner environment, reduction of emissions and a mitigation of climate change.
- acknowledges the need to assist governments in the development of policies and strategies that include the sustainable production and utilization of biofuels.
- recognizes the need to improve the quality of country-level data on biofuels, and to strengthen national and institutional capacities to collect, analyxe and disseminate the information.
- sees its work in the area of sustainable generation and rational utilization of bioenergy in the context of its contribution to the implementation of the Rio Declaration and Agenda 21, as well as the conventions on Climate Change, Biodiversity, Desertification, and other energy-related international agreements.
- considers bioenergy a crossectoral concern and an essential element in the transition to sustainable development.
- is revitalizing its activities related to bioenergy issues and options and strengthening its cooperation with member countries in this area.
FAO's comparative advantage
FAO has a longstanding global mandate from its member countries to promote renewable energies within the agricultural, forestry, and other energy demanding and/or producing sectors. FAO calls upon the necessary multidisciplinary expertise in the different areas of agriculture, forestry and economics to comply with this mandate. For many years, FAO has been developing multidisciplinary approaches and providing technical expertise in the field of bioenergy. A database on the production, trade and flow of woodfuels at country level has been regularly maintained since 1961, representing one of the most complete time-series available.
Through its Regular Programme, FAO has become expert in the development of methodologies and definitions, management and analysis of databases, policy advice and development of nationally and regionally specialized bioenergy studies. Similarly, FAO's expertise has been strengthened over the many decades of implementing field projects funded by donor agencies aimed at:
- increasing the supply of biofuels (through multipurpose tree plantations, agroforestry schemes, community forestry);
- reducing the woodfuel consumption and increasing the energy efficiency (improved stoves and charcoal making techniques);
- promoting renewable energy applications (to enhance agricultural productivity and for rural services);
- improving market and trade mechanisms;
- fostering gender equality;
- addressing health problems.
The main objective of FAO's new bioenergy programme is to contribute to a partial substitution of fossil fuels through biofuels, as well as the more rational, efficient, effective and safe utilization of biofuels.
To achieve this, FAO strives to:
- continue to acquire, compile, analyse and disseminate data and information on bioenergy through the established energy information systems;
- strengthen information and cooperation networks on bioenergy issues (Forest Energy Forum, Bulletin of the Latin American Working Group on Energization for Sustainable Rural Development, and other newsletters);
- address the future of wood energy within the outlook studies for Africa, Asia and Latin America currently under preparation;
- disseminate information and experiences through publications, electronic means and conferences, country missions, training workshop and seminars;
- raise the awareness and knowledge of policy- and decision-makers on the role of sustainable generation of bioenergy for socio-economic development, in particular, of women and the rural environment, as well as for the mitigation of climate change;
- assist member countries in strengthening their institutional and human capacities to implement bioenergy programmes;
- assist member countries in the implementation of bioenergy programmes within the framework of the Kyoto Protocol to attain sustainable production and efficient utilization of biofuels;
- apply the experiences gained in certain projects and areas, e.g. the Regional Wood Energy Development Programme in Asia (RWEDP), to other countries and regions;
- promote the adoption and integration of bioenergy issues and actions into national agriculture, forestry, energy and environmental policies, plans and programmes;
- develop partnerships with other bilateral and multilateral organizations, as well as with NGOs and the private sector;
- increase collaboration with agroindustries with bioenergy production potential (e.g. heat and power from sugar and rice mills; multipurpose crops for alcohol production).
1Bioenergy is understood as energy generated through biofuels. (Traction)energy provided through human or animal work, important in many countries, is excluded in this context.
2Biofuels are fuels of biological and renewable origin, such as fuelwood, charcoal, lifestock manure, biogas, biohydrogen, bioalcohol, microbial biomass, agricultural waste and byproducts, energy crops, and others.