Modern, efficient and sustainable forms of bioenergy production can play a key role in combating climate change while also providing social, economic and environmental benefits to rural communities. Biofuel plantations, which could be central to meeting landscape restoration targets while helping meet growing energy demand, could play a significant role. Scientists are investigating sources of bioenergy production that do not compete, but which contribute to food production and environmental conservation.
Successful efforts to harness renewable energy could help meet the U.N. Sustainable Development Goals (SDG), including SDG7, ensure access to affordable, reliable, sustainable and modern energy for all, and SDG13, take urgent action to combat climate change and its impacts. Research outcomes could also contribute to meeting targets laid out in the U.N. Paris Agreement on climate change, which aim to hold the increase in global average temperature to well below 2 degrees Celsius, to pursue efforts to limit the increase to 1.5 degrees Celsius, and achieve net zero emissions in the second half of the 21st century.
Different pathways for sustainable bioenergy development exist in different regions. CIFOR’s current research is primarily focused on sub-Saharan Africa and Southeast Asia. Vast tracts of degraded land could potentially be restored to productivity through greening initiatives designed to produce renewable energy. Scientists are working in Indonesia alongside smallholder farmers on projects to test fast-growing local species, including nyamplung, pongamia and bamboo that can grow in a range of soil types, including degraded and burned peatlands, wetlands and land formerly used for resource extraction.
Related initiatives to develop parameters for the biofuels sector involve analyzing demand, supply, costs, potential social and environmental impact, carbon footprint, synergies and trade-offs with food production. The potential scale of bioenergy production is also under scrutiny as scientists identify how bioenergy extraction links to physical landscape configurations in the context of wood extraction methods. Other considerations involve analyzing the direct and indirect environmental impact of land use, the cost efficiency of different public and private investment options, and the potential for income, jobs, poverty alleviation of different options.
What is bioenergy?
Bioenergy is not a single concept but includes many different bioenergy systems, each with different fuels and implications - such as solid biomass, first generation liquid biofuels, and second generation systems for liquid fuels or electricity. Expansion of bioenergy also poses challenges and has been controversial in many parts of the world because of its potential to compete with food production and environmental degradation associated with large scale monocultures of energy crops such as sugarcane and corn for bioethanol, soy or oil palm for biodiesel production. Major improvements in policy and technology are needed, and must be based on sound research to balance global demand for food, fiber and bioenergy feedstocks.