Bioenergy and biofuels: opportunities and constraints

Jan 2009

It is still controversial whether biofuels, particularly first generation biofuels, deliver net GHG benefits. Policies concerning biofuel production will need to require that feedstock production practices do not create net additional emissions of GHGs directly, or indirectly through land use change, i.e., that they do not displace arable land into natural ecosystems. Additional research on the lifecycle of greenhouse gas emissions of different biofuel feed stocks and technologies is required.
It is important that national bioenergy strategies focus not only on energy opportunities, but are based on a comprehensive assessment of the effects on food security and the social and environmental benefits of bioenergy and its costs, such as increasing food prices, deforestation and competition for land and water.
A long history of policy failures and locally produced equipment that does not always perform optimally, have led to considerable scepticism about bioenergy in many countries. The development of product standards, as well as demonstration projects and better knowledge dissemination, can increase market transparency and improve consumer confidence.
Institutional arrangements and power relationships strongly affect the ability of different stakeholders to participate in bioenergy production and consumption, as well as the distribution of the costs and benefits of these technologies.
The poor are expected to experience significant disadvantages from current trends in biofuel policies. The weaknesses in institutional links between the various sectors involved in food and energy production will have to be overcome through regulatory frameworks with effective multi-stakeholder participation in decision- making and environmental and social monitoring and evaluation. An integrated approach is important to ensure rational policies addressing alternative renewable energy, energy efficiency, agriculture, rural development, sustainable water and land use and management.


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