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FAO/UNEP/UN-Energy Bioenergy Decision Support Tool -
MODULE 4: Project Screening
The land-intensive nature of bioenergy can results in environ-
mental impacts that are often deeper and wider (in scope)
compared to other classes of energy project; for this reason,
the impact assessment will tend to be more comprehensive. A
number of environmental impact categories can be identifed:
• Potential impacts on biodiversity;
• Potential impacts on water availability and quality;
• Potential impacts on forest resources and products;
• Potential impacts on soil; and
• Potential impacts on air quality (excluding the climate impact
of GHGs).
These impacts, when taken together, might also affect the
ecosystem services at or near the project site; the impacts may
be positive or negative and may be on or offsite, depending also
on the physical and economic boundaries set for the impact
assessment. Even impacts in an area such as biodiversity that
would normally be assumed to be negative can potentially
become positive with appropriate measures; this might be the
case where sustainable farming practices replace a previous
intensive monoculture
<Mod5-Land Resources >.
The climate impacts associated with a bioenergy project will
generally be of three main types:
• Change
in GHG emissions: based on a comparison of the
baseline case with the project case;
• Adaptive capacity:
changes in adaptive capacity due to
increased income, improved energy services and physical
impacts at the project site (e.g. Changes in food manage-
ment options);
• Climate impacts:
due to climatic change, some areas desig-
nated for feedstock production may have different growth
characteristics in the future, including possibly lower yields.
Methodologies for assessing expected net GHG emission are
reasonably well-established and can be based in some cases
on CDM methodologies (GHG Accounting Methodologies). The
main diffculty at present lies in the calculation of emissions due
to land use change, where a number of uncertainties exist. The
EU Renewable Energy Directive provides default emission values
for a range of liquid biofuels; the methodology adopted in the
Directive considers only direct land use change (EC, 2009). There
is a need to use different approaches, since the assumptions
for accounting of products and system boundaries affects the
lifecycle energy use and emissions (Menichetti and Otto, 2008;
Hofnaegels, 2010). Indirect land use change (ILUC) occurs when
agricultural land is used for biofuels and land elsewhere must
be substituted to compensate for the decreased supply of food;
some methods have been proposed for including emissions
associated with ILUC although there is considerable uncertainty
associated with such approaches (Fritsche et al, 2010).
Changes in adaptive capacity of the affected communities can
occur for a variety of reasons:
Increased income for farmers and others in the bioenergy
supply chain;
• Welfare effects of changes in prices for agricultural crops or
forest products;
• Effect of improved energy security or increased access to
energy services;
• Health improvements when traditional biomass use is
replaced by modern energy services;
• Changes in the resilience of agricultural or forest production
systems, based on characteristics of bioenergy feedstocks
There are potential public health and energy/climate resource
co-benefts that can be achieved by incorporating climate
measures as upstream elements of energy systems and adaptive
response mechanisms (Patz et al, 2008). There are clearly
signifcant co-benefts for targeted interventions in the household
energy sector (Smith and Haigler, 2008).
The expected climate impacts on the yields, health and
productivity of bioenergy feedstocks in particular areas are highly
uncertain. The impacts would felt over the long-term but could
also be due to extreme events that could exert a sudden shock
to the local economy, although this shock would be felt for many
crops and not only for the energy crops. Where there are uncer-
tainties about future feedstock availability, visualisation tools can in
some cases offer a general approach to incorporating agricultural
climate adaptation strategies (weADAPT, 2011). Over the longer-
term the impacts of bioenergy expansion on the food system are
expected to decrease, whereas the impacts of climatic change
on the food system are likely to increase (Fischer, 2009). It does
not seem feasible at this time to include this type of effect in an
impact assessment for a bioenergy project; however, they might
be considered in long-term agricultural and energy strategies.
The potential socio-economic impacts of a large-scale bioenergy
programme are signifcant, as they affect not only the many
persons directly involved in the value chain through their own
labour but also the organisation of community activities, social
networking, the income structure, the value of land and various
indirect changes in allied industries or sectors. The cyclical nature
of large-scale bioenergy feedstock harvesting can in some cases
lead to reliance on temporary and/or seasonal workers, which
might create other socio-economic and environmental pressures.
In addition to food and energy security (discussed in separate
sections: Food Security and Energy Security) the following socio-
economic aspects can be identifed:
• Land tenure and displacement risk for local residents;
Income generation and potential exclusion of certain groups/
• Employment, labour conditions and business structures and
• Socio-cultural factors, including traditional lifestyles and
systems of governance;
• Gender issues, including changing role of women in biomass
use and/or production; and
Immigration of seasonal workers and related pressure on
available resources.
A social impact assessment would be tailored to the sector,
application and end-use and especially to the type of biomass
feedstock, since the most signifcant impacts will almost always
be on the agricultural (or forestry) side. Where feedstocks come
from residues or wastes, socio-economic impacts will be more
closely related to the sector or activity from which feedstock is
obtained (e.g. timber industry, food processing, municipal waste).
In some cases a simple checklist of principles can be used for
project assessments; for smaller projects, such an approach
might be suffcient if the evaluation is conducted by a knowl-