Risk governance guidelines for bioenergy policies released

The International Risk Governance Council working group on Bioenergy, chaired by IUCN's Chief Scientist Jeff McNeely, released their Policy Brief "Risk Governance Guidelines for Bioenergy Policies" which examines the opportunities and risks of bioenergy to meet goals such as energy security, rural development and climate change mitigation. It identifies deficits in the current governance of those risks, and presents IRGC’s recommendations for improvements to the risk governance of bioenergy.

International Risk Governance Council

Policy recommendations

The Governance of Bioenegy working group developed policy guidelines on the following areas related to the sustainable development of bioenergy.

While at a local scale and in specific situations bioenergy can provide numerous prospects for local and rural development, particularly with regards to meeting energy needs in developing countries, IRGC is concerned about the current development of large-scale bioethanol and biodiesel production. Current policies and accompanying economic incentives do not enable a balanced resolution of the trade-offs that need to be made between :

- biomass for fuel versus food ;
- energy security and independence versus climate change mitigation ;
- different uses of land, with direct and indirect impact on GHG emissions, soil degradation and water resources ; and
- local, regional and global needs

Risk management strategies should strike a balance between the case-specific opportunities offered by bioenergy and the risks it poses. Practical actions and instruments that could help policymakers and industry develop sustainable bioenergy production and policies include :

- Assessing realistic capacities to produce domestic feedstock for bioenergy and avoiding over-optimistic projections about the potential contribution of bioenergy to the energy mix.
- Implementing land-use policies which will reduce the risk of land with recognised high biodiversity value or high carbon stocks being converted to grow biomass feedstock, and encourage the use of marginal land only when environmentally and socially appropriate
- Promoting more sustainable agricultural practices, both for food and fuel production
- Fostering research and development that enables a faster move toward new forms of bioenergy (including so-called 2nd generation, but also transitional technologies), which may require less land, and may enable a more efficient use of wastes and non-food feedstock
- Managing the impact of bioenergy generation (and in general of all agricultural practices) on water resources
- Maximising the use of waste, particularly sewage, but only deliberately using food crop residues when doing so does not erode soil or lead to humus depletion
- Further developing and using risk assessment methodologies such as the widely accepted ‘cradle to grave’ LCAs, and applying them locally
- Adopting internationally agreed sustainability standards and criteria for certification which would be recognised under international trade rules
- Clarifying the definitions under international law of bioenergy products ; for example, ethanol is currently treated by WTO as an agricultural product and biodiesel as an energy product
- Developing adaptive regulatory frameworks that set the conditions for transparent and balanced markets for producing and exporting countries to meet, first, their domestic needs, and, second, the needs of international trade
- Employing only technology-neutral economic instruments to assure technological diversity in how environmental performance standards are met
- Engaging consumers with transparent communication and thereby helping them to make well-informed choices so that they, too, can contribute to promoting sustainable bioenergy and managing the associated risks

IRGC hopes that future public policies will emphasise :

- market-oriented approaches, to reduce existing distortions in liquid biofuel and agricultural markets ;
- environmental sustainability, protecting land and water resources from depletion and environmental damage ;
- adaptive regulation, production and behaviour, to allow rapid improvements in the economic and physical efficiencies in the production and conversion processes such as those implied in second generation technologies ;
- the acceptance under WTO rules of obligatory biomass certification taking account of greenhouse gas balance (including carbon sinks), biodiversity protection and protection of the local environment, to cover some aspects of sustainability at least ; and
- priority given to economic concerns for developing countries, with a focus on food, employment and energy needs.

Work area: 
Climate Change
Global Policy
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