UN Agency Sees Biofuels Providing up to 25% of Global Energy; Sets Up International Bioenergy Platform
Under the pressure of soaring oil prices and growing environmental constraints due to greenhouse gas emissions and global warming, momentum is gathering for a major international switch from fossil fuels to biofuels, according to the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) of the United Nations.
FAO’s focus on the issue lies more with the likely impact on small farmers and the implications for food security and rural development than on the larger geo-political and energy impacts.
The gradual move away from oil has begun. Over the next 15 to 20 years we may see biofuels providing a full 25 percent of the world’s energy needs. Oil at more than 70 dollars a barrel makes bioenergy potentially more competitive. Also, in the last decade global environmental concerns and energy consumption patterns have built up pressure to introduce more renewable energy into national energy plans and to reduce reliance on fossil fuels.—Alexander Müller, Assistant Director-General for the Sustainable Development Department, FAO
FAO’s interest in bioenergy stems from the positive impact that energy crops are expected to have on rural economies and from the opportunity offered countries to diversify their energy sources.
Farmers, particularly in tropical areas, are seeing new opportunities for increasing production and raising their incomes. But we also need to be careful. We need to plan. Competition for land between food and energy production needs to be converted to positive common benefits—Gustavo Best, FAO Senior Energy Coordinator
One hazard, according to FAO, is that large-scale promotion of bioenergy relying on intensive cash-crop monocultures could see the sector dominated by a few agri-energy giants without any significant gains for small farmers. But to date no comprehensive attempt has been made to address the welter of technical, policy and institutional problems involved.
In order to fill this gap, FAO has set up an International Bioenergy Platform (IBEP), to be officially presented at the United Nations in New York on May 9. The IBEP will provide expertise and advice for governments and private operators to formulate bioenergy policies and strategies. It will also help them develop the tools to quantify bioenergy resources and implications for sustainable development on a country-by-country basis.
It will further assist in the formulation of national bioenergy programs, drawing on FAO’s experience in promoting national, regional and global bioenergy development.
The aim is to help us grow both enough fuel and enough food, and make sure that everyone benefits in the process.—Alexander Müller