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September 2005


Energy as an engine for human development

Energy services are vital to keep economic sectors and residential activities running. Existing energy systems however, are often a source of environmental problems. For the less developed layers of society, access to clean and affordable energy is essential for poverty alleviation through the supply of heat, light and power as well as a host of other benefits such as the generation of income, development of rural infrastructures and the improvement of urban and rural health.

Bioenergy in general and wood energy in particular are the dominant sources of energy for about half of the world’s population who are the poorest of the poor, and who use this energy mainly for cooking. They have very limited access to other forms of energy such as electricity or liquid fuels. Much of the presently used bioenergy originates from various types of agricultural and forestry residues, however, increasingly, different kinds of energy crops and plantations are expected to provide the bulk of her biomass for energy production.

The potential role of bioenergy has been addressed more seriously in the last decade when global concerns related to energy prices, environmental degradation, privatization of the energy sector and the sustainability of current energy systems started to arise. Recently, awareness of the need to mitigate climate change has renewed the attention on bioenergy in both developing and industrialized countries as an environmentally friendly, cost-effective and locally available source of energy. Thus, bioenergy has emerged as a key factor in both developmental and environmental terms. Recognizing the substantial role of bioenergy in the energy balance of the twenty-first century means understanding its significant impact on agriculture and rural development.


Working session on Land Use and Bioenergy in
the Clean Development Mechanism

30 June 2005, FAO Headquarters

On the eve of the G-8 Summit in Scotland, where climate change and Africa were key subjects of discussion, natural resource experts met in Rome to discuss ways of giving poor countries incentives under the Kyoto Protocol to improve the use of fuelwood and reduce deforestation, loss of vegetation cover and land degradation.

Currently the poorest countries, some of which obtain more than 90 percent of their energy from wood and other biofuels, are excluded from payments for climate change mitigation measures related to non-renewable biomass use. Practical ways in which poor countries could receive payments for reducing emissions while improving the living conditions of their people include introducing more fuel-efficient domestic stoves and substituting the use of non-renewable biomass with biogas, bioethanol, agricultural residues and sustainably produced and harvested fuelwood.

The Kyoto Protocol's Clean Development Mechanism does give credit for afforestation and reforestation projects. However, it does not provide incentives for a more sustainable fuelwood and charcoal production and use, which could lead to a reduction of deforestation, loss of vegetation cover or land degradation.

Biomass energy

"The agreement should better recognize the linkages between land use and biomass, predominantly fuelwood and charcoal, which are key energy sources for many developing countries," according to FAO experts on renewable energy, who added that "Those poorest countries relying largely on woodfuels unsustainably produced, harvested and used are excluded from carbon payments, which could be so useful in moving towards biomass energy systems characterized by natural resource rehabilitation, cleaner indoor air and enhanced livelihoods."

"To make it even more difficult to carry out the promising combined land-use/wood energy projects, afforestation and reforestation projects in developing countries are excluded from the EU Emission Trading Scheme (EU-ETS), which represents one of the biggest buyers of carbon credits," a scientist working for the Graz-based think-tank Joanneum Research pointed out at the Rome meeting.

Climate change and the G-8

The G-8 and the European Union will have to take a decision prior to the next Conference of the Parties on Climate Change (Montreal in December 2005) on whether the poorest countries, who will suffer most from climate change, should continue to be, to a large extent, excluded from the Clean Development Mechanism that would at least provide some of the badly needed financial incentives to break the vicious circle of resource degradation and poverty, according to participants to the FAO-Joanneum Research meeting in Rome. In 1997, the Kyoto Protocol established the Clean Development Mechanism, which enables countries (developed countries and economies in transition) of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change to meet their greenhouse gas reduction targets at lower cost through projects in developing countries. (See also FAO Newsroom for more information.)

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  • The Working session on Land Use and Bioenergy in the Clean Development Mechanism may be accessed by clicking here.

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