In a world facing growing energy demand, high oil prices and an urgent need to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, bioenergy is an essential energy option for a range of applications as part of a mix that includes energy efficiency, renewable energy, and changed patterns of production and consumption.
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. There is increasing interest in developing and developed countries in modern bioenergy or biofuels.
This is due to the many environmental, social and economic benefits linked to bioenergy at times when carbon constraints and high crude oil prices limit further growth in the use of fossil fuels.
At the same time, we have seen recent debate questioning that these benefits will materialize and adding a whole range of concerns to the list of things to be examined.
No energy source is without drawbacks - it is urgent 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, ie. through an internationally agreed system that guarantees that bioenergy commodities are of a known pedigree and are produced sustainably, without destroying the sector's prospects.
Achieving this delicate balance is a challenge and more work is needed to understand the interrelations and how a policy mix balancing the different interests, i.e. energy, agriculture, environment, transport, trade, could look.
'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'.
To address these issues, UNEPs bioenergy programme is structured around the following priority areas:
- Sustainable Development impacts and synergies
- Resource Assessment
- Market creation and policy interventions
- Business development and finance.