Expert Exchange Workshop on the Promotion of Sustainable Wood Energy Value Chains in Development Cooperation-Outcomes

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Wood is a renewable energy source – policy makers in industrialized countries promote it for people to heat and light their homes. Wood is dirty and outdated – policy makers in developing countries ban its use: Promoting sustainable wood energy value chains is a matter of fact in industrialized countries and a challenge in developing countries - not only, but also because it is perceived as something that has to be overcome.

This was one of the conclusions of the Expert Exchange Workshop on the Promotion of Sustainable Wood Energy Value Chains in Development Cooperation that was organised by GIZ and KfW and held in Frankfurt am Main, Germany. To discuss the opportunities and challenges of a modernized wood energy sector in developing countries around 60 participants working for different international organizations, research institutes and consulting firms in the forestry, energy, and agricultural sector came together in March 2016.

Four out of five people in Sub-Saharan Africa use wood to cook their food and sterilize their water. International energy agencies project that woody biomass will remain the most important pillar of the energy mix in most developing countries for decades to come - especially in Africa. Imports of woody biomass from developing countries are likely to increase with the demand for wood as a renewable energy source growing. Recent studies show that the current mode of production and use in developing countries is causing forest degradation and deforestation, especially around consumption hot spots. Therefore it was clear to the experts that sustainable solutions must be sought to achieve affordable, reliable and sustainable energy access for all, while at the same time ensuring that forest resources are not further depleted.

Promoting sustainability means working on the entire value chain from planting trees to using an efficient and modern cookstove. The crucial part identified was the political and institutional framework of the wood energy sector. In most developing countries this framework is punishing sustainable wood energy value chains rather than incentivizing them.

Only a few examples so far have been successful in showing that sustainable production offers opportunities for rural development: A modernized sector can lead to new income sources for the rural poor, can help solving unclear land access rights and helps rehabilitating degraded lands.

Promoting modern use of wood energy for electricity or heat generation is also not possible without a favourable political framework - especially feed-in tariffs where mentioned here.

Throughout the workshop participants acknowledged that there is a risk in promoting sustainable wood energy production especially when looking at the growing international demand for wood energy to meet renewable energy targets in industrialized countries (esp. crowding out effects). Therefore initiatives need to ensure social and environmental safeguards are in place and respected.

Participants concluded that meeting the growing demand for wood energy globally and locally in a sustainable manner will need a growing international attention on its sustainable production, while staying committed to efficient use targets. The workshop showed that promoting sustainable wood energy value chains

  • is not an option, but a necessity, if international development goals related to energy access, food security, rural development and climate change mitigation and forest protection are to be met
  • has risks that need to be mitigated with social and environmental safeguards
  • means considering that wood energy is mostly used in poor households and has to be affordable
  • is complex due to the cross sectoral character
  • is challenging due to the informality and partly illegality of the sector
  • is challenging due to a lack of data on demand, supply and economic value
  • is an opportunity for forests and people
  • has potential for economic and rural development
  • needs an enabling policy and institutional framework and good governance
  • needs more positive examples of improved wood energy value chains
  • needs more international attention.

Throughout the workshop it was highlighted that the intended nationally determined contributions (INDCs) of many developing countries that include goals on making wood energy production more sustainable and its use more efficient give hope that the potentials of a modernized and formalized wood energy sector will get more attention in these countries. Commitments to the New York Declaration on Forests or Bonn Challenge give hope that the sustainable production of energy wood will be promoted. The related initiative AFR 100 offers great potential for modernizing the sector as does the planned REFORM Initiative.

For a detailed version of the workshop documentation, click here.