1 September 2011

Growth in biomass demand could lead to unsustainable land grabs

Report says demand for wood may outstrip supply by 600% in some countries

A new report by the International Institute for Environment and Development (IIED) has warned that if biomass comes from countries where local land rights are weak, there is “a real risk that people could lose the land they depend on for their livelihoods.” Biomass energy is responsible for over 75 per cent of the world’s renewable energy, and demand for woody biomass is increasing rapidly.

To meet EU 2020 renewable energy targets could require an additional 40 million oven dry metric tonnes (odmt) of solid biomass for electricity and another 50 million odmt for heating and cooling. As a result more land in Asia and Africa is likely to be used to produce biomass for energy and fuels.

The IIED report says this could mean demand for wood will outstrip supply by 600 per cent in some countries and they suggest that we need more public scrutiny and debate about the potential social impacts of biomass plantations in developing countries.

While the report highlights that jobs are likely to be created as a result of any biomass expansion, it also raises serious sustainability concerns. North American and European bioenergy and biofuel companies are known to be major investors in land in countries as diverse as India, Mozambique and Guyana.

If this is left to continue unsustainably there is a very “real risk that people will lose the land they depend on to survive [and] compensation may be inadequate to restore local livelihoods”, according to Lorenzo Cotula lead author of the research.

However, new legally binding sustainability criteria for biofuels and bioenergy will mean they must be produced to specific environmental standards to contribute towards meeting national targets and qualify for incentive schemes.

Using waste and agricultural residues to produce energy and fuel, instead of conventional crops, may also help improve biomass sustainability, and the NNFCC are providing the evidence needed to support their development.

Further information
The full report can be downloaded here (PDF-Document)

Source: NNFCC, 2011-09-01.

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