A collaborative initiative of the African Union Commission (AUC) and the United Nations Economic Commission for Africa (UNECA), the “Sustainable Bioenergy Policy Framework in Africa: Toward Energy Security and Sustainable Livelihoods” study (February 2012), which I had the rare privilege of undertaking, is designed to serve as a technical tool for promoting the sustainable development of bioenergy within the framework of NEPAD as well as global conventions that Africa is party to.
The study builds upon the various African Union initiatives launched to support the sustainable development of bioenergy in Africa, including decisions of the African Energy Ministers meeting held in Maputo, Mozambique, November 2010, which aimed at tripling bioenergy production in Africa by 2020.
Africa’s energy profile is characterized by low level energy consumption, heavy dependence on traditional biomass energy (up to 97 percent in some countries) against the backdrop of high petroleum prices, pervasive poverty, and environmental degradation. End-use energy efficiency is also low with Africa losing ten to forty percent of its primary energy input.
In recent years, there has been growing concerns for energy security and the desire of countries to produce own energy; thereby reduce dependence on imported oil. These coupled with advances made in bioenergy technologies and knowledge about potential contribution to reducing GHG emissions, galvanized interest in modern bioenergy, most notably, biofuels, as a natural solution to Africa’s energy problems.
The study took a holistic approach to energy derived from any biological material (bioenergy) in solid, liquid and gaseous forms. Biofuels represents the liquid form of bioenergy and includes woodfuels, agrofuels and biofuels from municipal wastes. Although fast growing, the share of biofuels in the bioenergy mix is negligible in the current African setting.
There is global consensus that modern bioenergy has huge potential to provide cheaper, more accessible, environmentally sound alternative energy both at the household and commercial levels. If not managed cautiously and prudently, however, the associated costs and risks can easily erode the benefits and also result in social problems and carbon debt. Recent media reports label biofuels as the “false promise” and driver of large land acquisitions that displaced rural people and threaten Africa’s remaining small tropical rain forests. Thus, how the bioenergy is produced, the feedstock used where it is produced, and who produces matter in realizing the full economic, social and environmental benefits that accrue to bioenergy.
The study proposed ten principles for designated bioenergy as sustainable. These principles were reviewed and improved upon by the AUC and UNECA organized Expert Group Meeting to Validate Reports on Bioenergy Policy and Technology Options in Africa, 21-23 November 2011, Addis Abeba, Ethiopia.
- Enhance food security
- Contribute to poverty reduction and rural development
- Integrate feedstock production and processing as well as export of processed goods through the use of technology, inputs and management of waste.
- Respect for and maintenance of different cultures.
- Enhance conservation of forest resources and wetland ecosystems as well as the integrity and diversity of the bio-physical systems.
- Contribute to climate change mitigation by significantly reducing lifecycle GHG emissions.
- Embrace practices that reduce soil degradation and/or maintain soil health.
- Help maintain or enhance the quality and quantity of surface and ground water resources, and respect prior formal or customary water rights.
- Respect for land rights and land use rights, both formal and informal.
- Promote descent work and wellbeing as well as full respect of human and labor rights as well as women and child rights.
By Mersie Ejigu, Partnership for African Environmental Sustainability (PAES)