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FAO/UNEP/UN-Energy Bioenergy Decision Support Tool -
MODULE 5: Land Resources
There may be existing uses of land that will be compromised by
bioenergy production, including socio-economic and cultural uses
as well as ecological and environmental functions. Those aspects
that may cause irreversible impacts on biodiversity or carbon
balances are discussed in more detail in separate sections (High
Biodiversity Environments; High Carbon Content Environments). It
is also important to note that there may be sensitive areas that are
not refected in protected areas or in assessments of biodiversity
(Hennenberg et al, 2009); such areas may have ecological value
or may be highly valued in the provision of ecosystems services
and thus intensive bioenergy production should be avoided, i.e.
they may be suitable but should not be considered as “available”
Socio-economic uses that affect availability of land may include
other agro or forest-based industries or even other uses of the
supporting infrastructure that would be impacted; if the value of
bioenergy production is higher compared to these uses, then
conversion may be preferred by local communities. Cultural
uses may include burial grounds, local customary uses and
other activities that are prioritised by local residents. Evaluating
trade-offs among competing land uses will require participatory
<Mod6: People and Processes>
if the assessments
are expected to consider “availability” from socio-economic and
cultural perspectives as well as bio-physical perspectives.
Superimposing to the suitability map information on mapping
of existing infrastructure helps to delineate which available and
suitable areas for feedstock production that are well-connected
and/or have good access to markets and are thus more likely
to be suitable for commercial operations. Key elements include
transport infrastructure (e.g. roads, railroads, ports, airports) and
processing facilities (e.g. refneries, wood processing plants). The
latter provide an indication of existing opportunities for processing
or pre-processing selected biofuel feedstocks. Mapping should
also include availability and reliability of electricity supply and
The type of infrastructure that aids market development is clearly
dependent upon the type of feedstock grown and the end market
that is targeted. Decentralized energy supply schemes for local
use may need very little infrastructure to be feasible, and in fact
may be proftable precisely in areas where (grid) connection is
absent or unreliable.
The identifcation of potential feedstock production areas following
a “top-down” data-based assessment must be accompanied
by ground-truthing exercises in those areas that are fagged as
having a signifcant potential for feedstock production. Ground-
truthing should verify and provide better details on the information
generated by statistics and maps. The teams that conduct
ground-truthing must include or work closely with local communi-
ties and technical experts in the area to ensure that the analysis
refects the reality on the ground. Field level assessments should
also clarify the status of land ownership and current and projected
land use, possibly by overlapping user groups.
High Carbon Content Environments
As with other forms of renewable energy, bioenergy has the
potential to reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions relative to
fossil fuels; biomass sequesters carbon during its growth, and the
carbon released during fuel combustion can be partially compen-
sated and/or recycled. In order for bioenergy to contribute to
climate mitigation efforts, the particular applications and end-uses
must demonstrate a favourable carbon balance compared to
the fossil fuels that they are replacing. GHG balances must be
established looking at the entire life-cycle, from seed and soil to
end use, and hence include the impacts from land conversion.
Converting carbon-rich land (such as natural forests or peat land)
to produce bioenergy feedstocks can release more greenhouse
gases than the emission reductions provided by the bioenergy
that is produced and used. In this section, a brief overview is
given of the defnitions and principles related to managing land
resources and the carbon that is sequestered in plants, soils and
root systems.
It may often be the case that areas of high biodiversity and areas
of high carbon content are the same or closely related spatially
and functionally; in such cases, the assessment process will
likely result in these areas being identifed as “no-go” areas for
bioenergy production (FAO, 2008). Nevertheless, the underlying
factors and the assessment procedures will differ in the two
cases; biodiversity is thus discussed in a separate section
Biodiversity Environments>.
Conversion of land from one use to another includes various
processes and transformations, such as deforestation and
land degradation as well as the overall impacts of economic
development that result in native forests or other natural regions
being converted to anthropogenic purposes. Land use change
has been a signifcant source of global GHG emissions in many
ways that are unrelated to bioenergy, accounting for nearly
20% of total emissions over time (IPCC, 2000). Deforestation
is the major source of GHG emissions from land use changes,
although there are several other possible sources, including slash
and burn agricultural practices and unsustainable harvesting of
woody biomass for use as industrial roundwood or energy. GHG
emissions from land use change can signifcantly change carbon
stored as a result of the harvest or removal of vegetation, as well
as accelerated decomposition rates of soil carbon (IPCC, 2006).
Conversion of forest or grasslands to cropland for biofuels
production can result in signifcant GHG emissions and reduce
the relative carbon savings of biofuels over fossil fuel sources.
Growing recognition of the contribution emissions from land use
change can have on the GHG impact of biofuels has increased
attention and caution regarding the accuracy of Life Cycle
Assessment (LCA) calculations (Fargione et al. 2008). Direct land
use change associated with bioenergy refers to land conversion
that is solely or primarily associated with expanded bioenergy
production. Due to the complexities of land use change and the
uncertainties in emissions, some analysts have suggested further
disaggregation in the attribution of emissions to land use change
as well as the specifcation of underlying assumptions for the
impact categories used (Menechetti and Otto, 2009).