In a world facing growing energy demand, high oil prices and an urgent need to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, modern bioenergy is considered an essential energy option for many different end uses. Even though demand for bioenergy, particularly biofuels for transport, is currently on the rise, it has also been met by a growing debate questioning its purported benefits. These benefits can come at the risk of environmental, social and economic harm
Since the discovery of fire, bioenergy - the use of organic materials to provide heating, lighting and motive power - has been one of the most dominant sources of energy worldwide. Today, all forms of biomass together provide about 14% of the world primary energy supplies, and represent about 80% of the global renewable energy supply. In some developing countries the share of biomass is as high as 90% of energy supply, with the use of traditional bioenergy for cooking and heating prevailing. Triggered by targets and mandates, there is a growing interest in both developing and developed countries for modern bioenergy and liquid, solid or gaseous biofuels.
No energy source is without its drawbacks. Because of this, it is important to analyze the potential benefits and risks of different bioenergy options at the outset; this includes matching resource endowments with needs. Bioenergy is neither good nor bad per se. In promoting specific options, we need to ensure that we do not add new environmental and social problems while trying to solve old ones. A comprehensive set of policies needs to be put in place to assure that bioenergy is produced in manners that ensure sustainability both on a national policy level, and a project level. An internationally agreed system is one solution that guarantees that bioenergy commodities are produced sustainably, without destroying the sector's prospects.
Achieving this delicate balance is a challenge. UNEP works to improve the understanding of the interrelations at a policy level where balancing different interests (i.e. between energy, agriculture, environment, transport, trade, resource efficiency, etc.) require trade-offs. Cooperation of and with different stakeholder groups is critical to approaching these challenges.
'Bioenergy yes or no' is not the question, but rather 'to what extent bioenergy will be part of the energy mix' and 'how will the pathways for sustainable bioenergy look like'.