The Role of Biomass in the Sustainable Development Goals

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The Role of Biomass in the Sustainable Development Goals
The Role of Biomass in the Sustainable Development Goals
Draft Working Paper
prepared by the Renewable Resources and the Sustainable Development Goals Forum
Global Soil Forum
Institute for Advanced Sustainability Studies e.V. (IASS)
Table of Content
1
Introduction .............................................................................................................................................. 3
2
The Sustainable Development Goals and biomass production: A reality check. ............. 5
2.1
3
The demand for food, feed, fuel and materials, as implied by the SDGs ..................................5
2.1.1
Biomass production for food and feed purposes .....................................................................5
2.1.2
Biomass production for fuel purposes .........................................................................................7
2.1.3
Biomass production for material purposes................................................................................8
2.2
Growing Demand, Finite Supply? Availability of land for biomass production over time .
............................................................................................................................................................................. 10
2.3
Data and model limitations...................................................................................................................... 14
Implications of increased production and consumption of biomass ................................ 15
3.1
Social implications of an increased production of biomass for non-food, non-feed
purposes......................................................................................................................................................................... 16
3.2
Economic risks and opportunities associated with an increase in biomass production
for non-food, non-feed purposes ......................................................................................................................... 20
3.3
Ecological implications of an increased production of biomass for non-food, non-feed
purposes......................................................................................................................................................................... 22
4 Beyond silo-thinking towards a nexus perspective: Conclusions and further research
needs.................................................................................................................................................................. 24
References ....................................................................................................................................................... 28
The Role of Biomass in the Sustainable Development Goals
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The Role of Biomass in the Sustainable Development Goals
1
Introduction
The United Nations Conference on sustainable development (Rio+20), which took place in
2012, launched a process to develop a set of Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). Member
states agreed that the SDGs would build upon the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) and
form part of the Post-2015 development agenda. Going beyond the MDGs, the SDGs are
envisioned to be universal. They will incorporate the three dimensions of sustainable
development (economic, social and environmental) and their inter-linkages, while accounting
for national circumstances (UN 2012). To progress with the development, an Open Working
Group (OWG) was formed to negotiate the SDGs, with the involvement of a broad range of
stakeholders. After meeting for thirteen formal sessions, the OWG released an outcome
document on 19 July 2014 with 17 potential SDGs and 169 accompanying targets, covering areas
such as poverty, food security, gender equality, water, energy, climate change, industrial
development and global partnerships. The SDGs will be further negotiated during the year 2015
and are expected to be adopted by the UN General Assembly in September 2015.
This paper highlights the role of biomass in the SDGs. Biomass is most often based on plant
materials that can be used for food, feed, material or fuel purposes (see also Box 1). In 2005
approximately thirteen billion tonnes of plant-based biomass were harvested per year, whereby
biomass for food and feed account for about 82 percent, biomass for fuel for about 11 percent
and biomass for material purposes for 7 percent (Wirsenius 2007, p. 1-2). Even though biomass
is primarily used as food and feed, it is increasingly demanded for non-food and non-feed
purposes. In face of dwindling fossil fuel reserves, fluctuating prices and the need to cut CO 2
emissions, biomass increasingly contributes to energy supply (IEA and OECD 2013). As an
energy source, biomass is primarily used directly, e.g. as firewood for cooking and heating, or in
modern combustion plants. It can also be converted into biofuels. In Germany, for example, in
2014, approximately 13 percent of the total arable land was cultivated with crops used for
energy purposes (FNR 2014). In addition, biomass plays an important role in a bio-based
industrial development, which is gaining more importance in industrialised countries, where
chemical and pharmaceutical industries are gradually relying on biomass for material purposes.
In Germany, for example, 1.8 percent of arable land is cultivated for industrial use (FNR 2014).
Biomass is a renewable, yet limited resource. If not cultivated and governed appropriately,
the production and consumption of biomass can aggravate challenges associated with resource
scarcities, soil degradation, biodiversity loss and climate change. For example, the production of
biomass for other purposes than food and feed can lead to competition over arable land and
other natural resources, which, in turn, can endanger food security. In addition, biomass
production can induce land use changes, which can have social, economic and environmental
consequences as well as increase carbon emissions. The necessity to cultivate more land to serve
the different demands for biomass might imply moving agricultural production into areas, for
example grasslands, savannahs and wetlands, that may not be suitable for agricultural
production, a biodiversity hotspot, or secure the livelihoods of indigenous populations. An
intensified use of land resources may also influence water quality and availability and might
worsen the global carbon and nitrogen biogeochemical cycles. Producing and consuming
biomass sustainably is therefore essential.
Many of the proposed Sustainable Development Goals rely on biomass in order to achieve
them. The current set of SDGs, however, does not reflect the sustainable production and
consumption of biomass in a comprehensive way. Biomass production is implicit in a number of
goals, for example food security (Goal 2), energy (Goal 7), sustainable production and
consumption (Goal 12) and the use of terrestrial ecosystems (Goal 15). Yet, the complexities and
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trade-offs associated with an increasing demand for biomass for food, feed, fuel and material
purposes and the potential implications for sustainable development, in all its dimensions, are
not appropriately considered.
The negotiations of the SDGs offer a unique opportunity to raise awareness for these
complex and interdependent issues and to anchor the opportunities and challenges of
sustainably produced and consumed biomass in the post-2015 development agenda. The aim of
this paper is to shed light on the role of biomass production in the proposed Sustainable
Development Goals. The paper shows that the current proposal is not sustainable, because
future biomass demand for food, feed, fuel and material purposes, as implied by the proposed
SDGs, cannot be sustainably met. This has social, economic and environmental implications,
which the paper discusses. Those implications may - if not appropriately addressed - lead to
conflicts. In unveiling these implications the paper aims to assist policy-makers who will be
negotiating the Sustainable Development Goals and will implement them in their economies.
Different analyses of the current proposed set of the SDGs have been made. They focus on
specific topics related to biomass like, for example, food security (Bill & Melinda Gates
Foundation 2014; Biovision and Millennium Institute 2014), forests (IIED 2014) or climate (CAN
2014). However, there is a need to look at biomass production across its four dimensions of use
– food, feed, fuel, materials –, as they are interconnected and can be in competition with each
other. This paper aims to take such an encompassing view. Basis of the analysis is an integrated
approach, which attempts to systematically analyse the all dimensions of biomass and its
implications. It also incorporates the influence of external factors (e.g. trade, investment, climate
change) and highlights the need for a sustainable management and governance of the natural
resource base.
The paper proceeds as follows: Section 2 discusses the projected demand for the four
different types of biomass, as implied by the proposed set of SDGs, and contrasts it with existing
projections for land availability in order to show that projected demand and supply of biomass
may not match. It also discusses the challenges associated with the available data. Section 3
considers the potential social, environmental and economic implications this may have and
potential conflicts that may evolve. Focus of the discussions is on the global scale. It is, however,
acknowledged that the implications of biomass production and consumption are context specific
and may vary by biomass type. Section 4, elaborates on key features of governance and possible
next steps towards the operationalization of the SDGs in general, and sustainable biomass
regimes in particular.
Box 1: Defining biomass:
Biomass is a complex term that may mean different things to different readers. In this paper we define
biomass as land-based organic materials that can be used for food, feed, material or fuel purposes. These
include crop materials (incl. crop residues and waste), wood (incl. wood residues and waste), animal waste
and by-products (incl. manure). We also discuss post-consumption and post-processing materials (incl. food
waste and residues from industrial production).
The Role of Biomass in the Sustainable Development Goals
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2
The Sustainable Development Goals and biomass production: A reality
check.
2.1
The demand for food, feed, fuel and materials, as implied by the SDGs
This section considers how much more biomass will have to be produced to meet the
different targets implied by the current set of Sustainable Development Goals. A differentiation
is made between production for (i) food and feed, (ii) energy and (iii) material purposes. Data
limitations will be discussed in section 2.3.
2.1.1
Biomass production for food and feed purposes
Food security is a main priority in the sustainable development goals and the post-2015
development agenda. Goal 2 is aimed at ending hunger, achieving food security and improved
nutrition and promoting sustainable agriculture. The challenges posed by Goal 2 are enormous:
i) achieving food security, in all its dimensions, for a growing population with changing
nutritional preferences, ii) ending malnutrition, iii) doubling agricultural productivity and
incomes of small-scale food producers, iv) ensuring sustainable food systems, and v)
maintaining genetic diversity of seeds and domesticated animals (UN 2014, p. 8). Most of these
challenges will have to be met by 570 the million farms in the world, of which 72 percent are
estimated to be operated by farmers with less than one hectare (FAO 2014a, p. 2).
How much more will have to be produced to feed a growing world population
sufficiently in the future? Answers to this question vary, depending on the model assumptions
used for projections, the base year, the modelling framework and the projection period. Tilman
et al. (2011, p. 20261), for example, estimate that the global demand for crops will increase by
100 to 110 percent. The projections of the Food and Agriculture Organisation of the United
Nations (FAO), which are most often quoted, estimate that global agricultural production would
need to increase by 70 percent (23 percent in developed countries and nearly 100 percent in
developing countries) over the period from 2005/07 to 2050 in order to feed the growing world
population sufficiently. Crop production will need to increase by 1.1 percent per annum. An
additional one billion tonnes of cereals and 212 million tonnes of meat would need to be
produced annually by 2050 (Bruinsma 2009, p. 5).
Global population will not only grow in size, but per capita incomes in most developing
nations are expected to grow in line with economic growth. As a consequence the demand for
agricultural products is also expected to change: away from cereal staple crops to more protein
rich food like meat and dairy. The Agrimonde Scenario Analysis projects that these changes
could be greater in developing than in developed countries, particularly in Asia and Sub-Saharan
Africa (Paillard et al. 2014, p. 65). An increase in meat production means that biomass would
increasingly be produced for feed purposes. For example, according to the FAO, 80 percent of the
additional 480 million tonnes of maize produced annually by 2050 would be for animal feed
(Bruinsma 2009, p. 6). The OECD-FAO Agricultural Outlook 2014-2023 projects that an
additional 58 million tonnes of meat will be consumed by 2023, of which 80% will occur in
developing countries. The demand for feed will increase accordingly, and the OECD-FAO Outlook
projects that 160 million tonnes of additional feed will be demanded by 2023 (OECD-FAO 2014,
p. 32). Bailey et al. (2014, p. 5) project that the demand for meat (76 percent) and dairy products
(65 percent) will grow faster than that for cereals (40 percent) from 2005-2007 to 2050.
The increase in biomass for feed purposes will depend not only on the volume of meat
demanded, but also on the type of meat. As Wirsenius (2007, p. 3) states ruminant (e.g. beef)
meat “requires 10 to 20 times more land and biomass per unit produced than pig and poultry
meat and milk, and even relatively small changes in its consumption level have significant effects
on the requirement of agricultural land, not only of grassland, but also of cropland”. The
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composition of meat demand varies largely by region, driven by cultures and traditions as well
as income levels (OECD-FAO 2014, p. 181)
How will the additional food and feed demand be met?
The conclusion that more food and feed will have to be produced to meet world demand
for food is made by all of the studies that project future food and feed demand. Most of the
additional increases in production are projected to occur through increasing yields and cropping
intensities (i.e. multiple cropping in one season) (Bruinsma 2009, p. 6).
Over the past six decades, farmers were able to adapt to the food demand of a rapidly
growing world population, which had more than doubled globally and tripled in developing
countries over that period (UNPOP 2014). However, this development has not occurred equally:
More productivity gains have been observed in Latin America and Asia than in Sub-Saharan
Africa. Most of the gains have been due to the development and uptake of modern seed
technologies, irrigation, fertilizers as well as modern farming equipment and techniques. The
question arises whether advancements at this scale can be reached over the next two decades
and at what cost.
The FAO projects that 77 percent of the incremental agricultural production to 2050 will
be achieved by yield increases and 14 percent by increases in cropping intensities. These figures
vary by region: In the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region 90 percent of additional
agricultural output is expected to be produced by increasing yields. In Sub-Saharan Africa and
Latin America 69 and 52 percent, respectively, of additional output will come from yield
increases (Bruinsma 2009, p. 6). Whether large-scale yield increases are feasible varies largely
by region and crop: Mueller et al. (2012, p. 255) find that the potentials to close gaps between
observed and attainable yields in maize, wheat and rice are high in Eastern Europe, Sub-Saharan
Africa, and East and South Asia, while they are lower in North America and Western Europe,
where yields are already high. In addition, Grassini et al. (2013, p. 4) find that yields have
plateaued in some of the world’s most intensive cereal cropping areas.
Therefore, achieving increases in yields will have to go beyond technological solutions to
ensure that progress is achieved and shared in a sustainable way. Increases in output will
depend on putting the right institutions and structures in place and opting for more sustainable
and inclusive forms of agricultural production. This includes, for example, the consideration of
agro-ecological practices as well as an improved access to productive resources, services and
infrastructure for all farmers. For example, it is estimated that if women had the same access to
productive resources as men, they could significantly increase yields on their farms by 20–30
percent; raise total agricultural output in developing countries by 2.5–4 percent (FAO 2011a, p.
5). At the same time, studies highlight the importance of adequate public infrastructure in place
(e.g., storage, market access, roads, tenure rights, health services, schools) (IAASTD 2008).
To feed a growing population adequately will not only depend on producing more, but
also on wasting less. Food supply could be increased by reducing the share of waste in the
agricultural value chain. The FAO (2011b, p. v) estimates that 1.3 billion tonnes of food are
wasted every year, either through post-harvest losses or food waste at the household level. Percapita food losses per year are estimated to be 280-300 kg in Europe and North America and
120-170 kg in Sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia. Per-capita food waste at the consumer level is
a greater problem in developed countries (95-115 kg/year) than in developing countries (6-11
kg/year) (FAO, 2011b, ibid).
However, not all additional food and feed demand may be met through increases in yield
and cropping intensities. The FAO, for example, estimates a net land expansion of 70 million
hectares (ha) between 2005-07 and 2050 (Bruinsma 2009, p. 2). However, land expansion
projections do not consider the social contexts within which the land is being cultivated, e.g. who
The Role of Biomass in the Sustainable Development Goals
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owns or uses the land that is being expanded for agricultural production. Bruinsma
acknowledges that projections on land expansions have to be heavily qualified: “Much of the
suitable land not yet in use is concentrated in a few countries in Latin America and sub-Saharan
Africa, i.e. not necessarily where it is most needed, and much of the potential land is suitable for
growing only a few crops not necessarily the crops for which there is the highest demand. Also
much of the land not yet in use suffers from constraints (chemical, physical, endemic diseases,
lack of infrastructure, etc.), which cannot easily be overcome (or it is economically not viable to
do so). Part of the land is under forests, protected or under urban settlements, and so on” (p. 2).
In addition, areas identified for cultivation may be already used by communities already.
The FAO models predict that arable land in use will grow by 0.10 percent per year from
2005/07 to 2050, down from 0.3 percent per year from 1961-2005. Most of the expansion in
land is expected to occur in Latin America and Sub-Saharan Africa, because these regions are
estimated to have the most land crop production potential, while no expansion is expected in the
Middle East and Near Africa Region as well as South Asia (Bruinsma 2009, p. 13). However, as
Bruinsma (2009, p. 14) qualifies, much of the available land is distributed over 13 countries,
suitable for only a few crops, and may face one or more constraints (e.g. soil quality, irrigation
potential).
The Global Land Use Assessment of the United Nations Environmental Programme
(UNEP, 2014) reviewed a large amount of studies that project the future of biomass production.
The report arrives at the same conclusions that the growing demand for food will not be entirely
met by yield increases, and global cropland will, therefore, expand. The report states that land
area for agricultural expansion for food and feed production could increase between 71 and 300
million hectares to meet the additional demand for food and feed. Most of this expansion could
occur by moving into grasslands, savannahs and forests (UNEP 2014, p. 20).
2.1.2
Biomass production for fuel purposes
With rises in the global population as well as per capita income levels, the global demand
for energy is expected to increase by 37 percent to 2040 (IEA 2014, p. 1). The Sustainable
Development Goal 7 calls for ensuring access to affordable, reliable, sustainable and modern
energy for all. In particular target 7.2 states “by 2030, increase substantially the share of
renewable energy in the global energy mix”. This would mean that the demand on biomass for
fuel purposes will also rise. In fact, the IEA (2014, p. 3) projects the share of renewables in total
energy generation will rises from 21 percent in 2012 to 33 percent in 2040. Biofuel use will
almost triple from 2012 to 2040, and it will make up eight percent of total road transport fuel
demand by 2040 (ibid).
Besides the aim to improve access to modern energy services, many states have
committed themselves, for instance under the Kyoto Protocol and the UN Sustainable Energy for
All Initiative, to support renewable energies to fight climate change. Renewable energies, like
energy derived from biomass, can contribute to lowering CO2 emissions, but they have to be
sustainably produced to achieve this aim (IPCC 2011, pp. 18-19). Several industrialised
countries implemented policies that aim at increasing the share of renewable energy within
their national energy mix. For example, the European Union (EU), in its Renewable Energy
Directive (EU Directive 2009/28/EC), aims at a share of 20 percent of its energy to come from
renewables by 2020. At the national level, feed-in tariffs, subsidies as well as tax breaks are
common. The United States also offers subsidies and credits in order to increase the share of
renewables in their national energy mix, e.g. via the Renewable Electricity Production Tax Credit
or several incentives at the state level.
The International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA) in their global bioenergy supply
and demand projections project that global biomass demand for energy purposes could more
than double from 53 Exajoules (EJ) per year in 2010 to 108 EJ per year in 2040. There will also
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be a shift in demand: away from traditional uses of biomass, such as wood-burning for cooking
and heating in residential homes, to transport fuels and electricity generation. For example, it is
expected that 28 percent of the total biomass for energy demanded in 2040 will be for liquid
transport fuels, of which 63 percent will be first-generation biofuels, and the remaining 39
percent second-generation biofuels (IRENA 2014, pp. 3-4). Looking at the regional breakdown of
the demand for biofuels, the study finds that 30 percent of the demand for biomass for energy
purposes would be generated in Asia (driven by China, India and Indonesia), followed by North
America (driven by the USA and Mexico), and Latin America (driven by Brazil). The demand of
the USA, China, India, Brazil and Indonesia are expected to make up 56 percent of total demand
for biomass for energy purposes in 2030 (IRENA 2014, p. 24-27). Energy projections tend to
differ, because they depend on assumptions about energy inputs to generate electricity or heat.
Caution is, therefore, required when considering different statements about the value of one
energy source over the other in the global energy mix (Martinot et al. 2007).
How will the additional energy demand be met?
Bioenergy can be produced from two sources: (i) crop production and forests, and (ii)
residues, like crop residues or wood-based waste. IRENA (2014, p. 27) projects that by 2030 3845 percent of the total biomass supply for energy purposes will be met by crop residues and
other waste products, and the remaining will be equally met by crop production and forests. As
in the case of food and feed production not all demand for biomass for energy purposes will be
met by increasing yields. The UNEP Assessment of Global Land Use summarizes that crop land
expansions due to an increase in the use of biofuels could be between 48 and 80 million hectares
(UNEP 2014, p. 20).
In addition, energy supply could also be increased by using energy more efficiently.
Achieving energy efficiency will become more critical, given that the middle class is expected to
increase from 1.8 billion people to 3.2 billion by 2020 and 4.9 billion by 2030. The majority of
this growth (85%) is projected to occur in Asia (Kharas 2010, p. 27). A rising middle class will
demand more and secure access to energy. Target 7.2 addresses energy efficiency by stating “By
2030, double the global rate of improvement in energy efficiency”. Reaching an energy efficiency
target by 2030 implies cutting waste and increasing research into energy saving practices and
technologies. It also means investing more in energy infrastructures. This will be valid for all
energy sources, including energy produced from biomass. In view of the unequal global
consumption of energy, it will be also be important to reduce consumption in some countries to
reduce the impact on soils, land and climate.
2.1.3
Biomass production for material purposes
Biomass for material purposes encompasses a number of products. Paper, pulp, rubber
and cotton are the most prominent examples. Other examples include solvents and plastics,
which can be used by the chemical industry. There are fewer projections on future biomass
demand for material purposes compared to demand projections for biomass for food and fuel
purposes. Hoogwijk et al. (2003, p. 129), using historical trends, estimate that the total demand
for biomass for material purposes could vary between 4335 and 6084 million tonnes in 2050,
whereby wood-based products would continue to make up the majority of products, followed by
pulp and chemicals. This could be reduced to 820 to 2570 million tonnes if all production
residues are effectively used. The authors estimate that the amount of land required to meet the
estimated biomass demand for material purposes varies between 503 - 678 million hectares of
which the majority (approx. 351 million ha) will be forests (ibid).
Forests cover approximately 31 percent of the global land area (FAO 2010, p. xiii).
Forests are not only an important source of biomaterials. They also constitute a vital basis for
numerous resources (e.g. timber, fuel wood and non-wood forest products) and services (e.g. the
conservation of soils, carbon stock, and water and biological diversity). For example, eight
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percent of the global forest area (or 330 million hectares) is dedicated to the protection of soil
and water resources (FAO 2010, p. xxi). Deforestation or the degradation of forests implies the
loss of these complex resources and services. Deforestation can also imply that large quantities
of greenhouse gases are being released into the atmosphere, thereby accelerating problems
associated with climate change (UNEP 2014, p. 11). Forests are addressed by Sustainable
Development Goal 15 which calls for the protection, restoration and promotion of the
sustainable use of terrestrial ecosystems, the sustainable management of forests, the combat of
desertification, and the halt and reversion of land degradation and biodiversity losses. In
particular target 15.2 states “by 2020, promote the implementation of sustainable management
of all types of forests, halt deforestation, restore degraded forests and increase afforestation
globally” (UN 2014, p. 21).
Despite their undisputed importance, the area planted to forests is declining
dramatically, though at a smaller rate than a decade ago. The FAO Global Forests Resources
Assessment 2010 states that between 1990 to 2000 deforestation and the loss of forests by
natural causes has been close to 16 million hectares per year. This number had slightly
decreased to 13 million hectares per year between 2000 and 2010 (FAO 2010, p. viii). Between
2000 and 2010, the greatest net forest losses are estimated to have occurred in South America,
followed by Africa and Oceania (FAO 2010, p. xvi). In Europe as well as North America, as well as
in some transition countries, afforestation resulted in gains in forest area (ibid). This may be
driven by an increased interest in wood-based biomass for energy and fuel in industrial
countries and will be further discussed in Chapter 3.
Finally, forests have become increasingly important as a carbon sink in the context of
renewable energy and climate change policies. The report of the Intergovernmental Panel on
Climate Change (IPCC 2014a, p. 31) states that “the most cost-effective [climate change]
mitigation options in forestry are afforestation, sustainable forest management and reducing
deforestation, with large differences in their relative importance across regions; and in
agriculture, cropland management, grazing land management, and restoration of organic soils”
This emphasises the importance of sustainable production of forest biomass.
How will the additional materials demand be met?
As mentioned above, the majority of biomass demand for material purposes is expected
to be based on wood-based materials. An increased demand for forest products will increase
competition between different forest products, e.g. timber used in construction, the paper
industry and wood-based biomass for energy (Raunikar et al. 2010, pp. 55-56). The rising
demand for forest-related products is currently met by an increase in harvest rates from
primary and secondary forests as well as forest plantations. Apart from rising harvest rates, a
growing demand further translates into an expansion of forest areas in some countries (see
above). In places where additional land is scarce or where existing forests are ill-managed, the
growing demand for forest products, however, also comes at the risk of overexploitation, be it,
through the formal forestry sector or by illegal logging and trade (Boucher et al. 2011, p. 65). In
the context of climate change mitigation, the emphasis is on increasing the amount of standing
forest biomass rather than on increasing harvest rates. In late 2011, the Bonn Challenge was
announced by the World Forest Foundation, with a target of restoring 150 million hectares by
2020 (GPFLR 2011).
The rising demand for biomass for material purposes would have to be met by using
materials more efficiently through recycling, increasing yields and land expansions. The UNEP
Global Land Use Assessment, based on an extensive study of projections that consider future
trends, states that global crop land expansion through an increased demand for biomaterials will
vary from 4 to 115 million hectares (UNEP 2014, p. 20).
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2.2
Growing Demand, Finite Supply? Availability of land for biomass production over
time
The above section highlighted the rising demand for biomass for food, feed, fuel and material
purposes for human development that is also reflected in the SDGs, or better: the targets that
rely on them for their achievement. This section discusses the implications for land associated
with these (competing) demands. We will review main projections of land availability and the
recent history of land use change. Box 2 offers a definition of the different terms used in this
section. Where appropriate, the next sections will also address the problems of these definitions
that modelling and projections build upon.
Box 2: Defining land
The Food and Agriculture Organization defines different categories of land:





Land area Land area is the total area of the country excluding area under inland water bodies.
Land use is the type of activity being carried out on a unit of land. It is recognized that these
categories are a mixture of land cover (e.g., forest, grassland, wetlands) and land use (e.g., cropland,
settlements) classes
Agricultural area: is the sum of areas under arable land, permanent crops and permanent meadows
and pastures.
o Arable land is the land under temporary agricultural crops, temporary meadows for
mowing or pasture, land under market and kitchen gardens and land temporarily fallow
(less than five years). The abandoned land resulting from shifting cultivation is not included
in this category.
o Land under permanent crops is the land cultivated with long-term crops which do not
have to be replanted for several years (such as cocoa and coffee); land under trees and
shrubs producing flowers, such as roses and jasmine; and nurseries (except those for forest
trees, which should be classified under "forest")
o Permanent meadows and pastures is the land used permanently (five years or more) to
grow herbaceous forage crops, either cultivated or growing wild (wild prairie or grazing
land).
Forest area is the land spanning more than 0.5 hectares with trees higher than 5 meters and a
canopy cover of more than 10 percent, or trees able to reach these thresholds in situ. It does not
include land that is predominantly under agricultural or urban land use. Forest is determined both
by the presence of trees and the absence of other predominant land uses. Areas under reforestation
that have not yet reached but are expected to reach a canopy cover of 10 percent and a tree height of
5 m are included, as are temporarily unstocked areas, resulting from human intervention or natural
causes, which are expected to regenerate.
Fallow land (temporary) is the cultivated land that is not seeded for one or more growing seasons.
The maximum idle period is usually less than five years. Land remaining fallow for two long may
acquire characteristics requiring to be reclassified, such as "permanent meadows and pastures" (if
used for grazing), "forest or wooded land" (if overgrown with trees), or "other land" (if it becomes
wasteland).
Source: FAOSTAT (http://faostat3.fao.org/mes/glossary/E)
Projections about the future land use for biomass production predominantly rely on two
different approaches (Paillard et al. 2008, 73-75): Firstly, they quantify the equilibrium of a
particular biomass’ demand and supply. This approach is used by the studies of the International
Food Policy Research Institute, the Millennium Ecosystem Assessment or the European
Environment Agency. Related land use scenarios of the demand / supply model make
assumptions about the future biomass demand and the factors that influence whether this
demand can be met by supply, such as yield gains, availability of irrigated land, irrigation
The Role of Biomass in the Sustainable Development Goals
10
efficiency, cropping intensity, soil fertility and/or degradation, land conversion (e.g.,
urbanisation, infrastructure) (ibid). Secondly, an evolutionary approach is applied that projects
the future availability of arable land, using estimates about current land use and building on
current trends. This approach has been widely applied by the FAO (ibid). All models make
assumptions about worldwide and regional agricultural and societal developments to estimate
future land use. Moreover, they assume a rising demand for biomass in all four dimensions of its
use (see Section 2.1).
As with the demand for biomass, projections on the availability of land highly depend on
the model assumptions used for projections, the base year, the modelling framework and the
projection period. Projections often make assumptions on political decision-making frameworks,
land qualities, land availability and complex socio-economic transformations, which may never
take place. Nonetheless, it is important to consider the most prominent projections about land
take for biomass production, as they have been very influential in political decision making,
particular in their framing of regions and countries as biomass providers and/or land
abundance. These projections are widely used, and thus – in spite of their hypothetical nature –
they do have real world consequences.
Several studies tried to assess the quantity and location of land that is available to meet
the growing demand for different types of biomass, and they draw highly diverse conclusions
(see also Table 1). Some publications see potential for expansion of agricultural production
(Bruinsma 2003), while others argue that there is no surplus land (Chamberlin et al. 2014). In
practice, “[l]and availability is not a given, but strongly depends on development in demand,
crop prizes, agricultural developments, environmental demands, etc.” (Kampman et al. 2008, p.
40), as well as social contexts, namely the question who owns or uses the land; and/or whether
the adequate institutions are in place to cultivate it. Moreover, it is important to note that the
models neglect land use changes that can have significant environmental and societal
implications, in the form of environmental degradation, rising CO2 emissions, threatened
indigenous and rural livelihoods, etc.
The FAO model – the most widely cited future projection – highlights these problems
associated with the modelling land availability in greater detail. It estimates that at present, 11
percent (over 1.5 billion ha.) of the global land surface (13.4 billion ha) are used for crop
production. This area represents slightly over a third (36 percent) of the land projected to be to
some degree suitable for crop production according to FAO projections (Bruinsma 2009, p. 9). It
is estimated that there is some 2.7 billion ha of land with crop production potential which would
suggest that there is scope for further expansion of agricultural land (ibid). As mentioned in
Section 2.1 FAO projects a net expansion of some 70 million hectares by 2050 for food and feed
production, of which 120 million hectares are made available in developing countries, and there
is an expected decrease of 50 million hectares in developed economies (Bruinsma 2009, p. 14).
The Role of Biomass in the Sustainable Development Goals
11
Table 1: Literature overview on global agricultural and forest land availability
Source: Kampman et al. 2008, p. 34
These FAO projections about arable land reserves available for cultivation are highly
contested. Chamberlin et al. (2014, p. 62) in their study on land availabilities in Africa, for
example, assert that the notion of abundant land reserves in Africa need substantial
qualifications. The FAO land estimates do not consider existing land uses of the identified arable
land, such as forest cover, human settlements or economic infrastructure that might occupy socalled “uncultivated arable land.” They also do not consider who uses the land, or how that land
is governed – a significant aspect of the availability of land. For deriving the land suitability
estimates, “it is enough for a piece of land to support a single crop at a minimum yield level for it
to be deemed suitable” and thus available for crop production (Bruinsma 2003, Section 4.3).
This means that land identified as suitable for cultivation might de facto be only suitable
for a single crop, which makes it difficult to understand how much land is actually available for
food and / or other forms of biomass production. In addition, abundant land reserves, as
projected by the FAO, in regions of Latin America and Sub-Saharan Africa are concentrated in
only thirteen countries, namely (in order of estimated availability) Brazil, the Democratic
Republic of Congo, Angola, Sudan, Argentina, Colombia, Bolivia, Venezuela, Mozambique,
Indonesia, Peru, Tanzania, Zambia (Bruinsma 2009, p. 11).
Overall, the abstraction from the political economies in these countries and other
ecological, and/or socio-economic dynamics that determine land net expansion could make the
projections problematic, if not unrealistic. Making this land available for cultivation could mean
resettling or dispossessing people and furthering deforestation, with uncertain consequences for
the social development and microclimate, respectively. This will be further discussed in Section
3. In addition, as pointed out in Section 2.1., assumed uncultivated arable land that is available
for the expansion of agricultural production can face constraints in the form of lacking
infrastructure, institutions, ecological fragility or poor soil quality (Binswanger-Mkhize 2009).
Treated uncritically, these projections could promote the unsustainable production of
biomass. For instance, the projections disregard the competition for land for non-food and nonThe Role of Biomass in the Sustainable Development Goals
12
feed biomass; land governance issues and actual uses of land, and they may fail to account for
other ecological and social dimensions of agricultural land expansion. Moreover, these models
do not consider how land cover changes-induced emissions contribute to global warming, or
how processes of land ownership concentration and dispossession might result from the
competition for land that will likely aggravate ongoing deforestation trends and/or social
conflicts over land. Broader trends of human development, such as demographics, urban sprawl,
or urbanization are also unaccounted for in these models. In addition, regional and global
repercussions of national land use changes remain unaddressed, such as deforestation-induced
changes in weather patterns (Millan 2008).
While we only discussed the limitations of the FAO modelling of land availability, other
models base their projections of land availability on similar assumptions. For example, the
Agrimonde projections (Paillard et al. 2014, p. 88) assume that the irrigated land area can be
expanded through the building of damns, thereby increasing total availability of arable irrigated
land. If not governed and managed sustainably, the potentially harmful character of such largescale build up projects is well-known. In fact, the voluntary private regime of global governance,
the Equator Principles, applied by private commercial banks, emerged in response to the
continued civil society protests over the social and environmental impacts of such large-scale
infrastructure projects (Goetz 2013; Ganson and Wennmann, 2012, pp. 6-7).
In sum, this section showed that global land availability is restricted. This may lead to
considerable land use changes. Box 3 illustrates at the recent history of land use change and its
consequences.
Box 3: Recent history of land use competition at the example of cultivated land area
Over the past five decades, the global area of so-called cultivated land - namely the arable land and
permanent cropland area - has continuously increased, often at the cost of other land uses (e.g. forestry). For
example, FAO data on land use shows that the global area of arable land and land under permanent crops
increased by 12 percent since 1961. In 2011 it counted for 11 percent of the planet’s land (approximately 1.5
billion hectares) (Paillard et al. 2014, p. 95). FAO data on changes in global land areas between 1995 and 2005
suggest that parallel to increases in the arable land area and land used for permanent crops (by ten million
hectares), the global forest area decreased (by 80 million hectares), while area under pastures and meadows
remained fairly stable (Kampman et al. 2008, p. 8).
There have been considerable regional and national variations in global land trends: The largest
share of the above mentioned newly-cultivated land area has been located in two regions, namely Sub-Saharan
Africa (SSA) and Latin America (LAM). FAO data suggest that both SSAs and LAM arable permanent cropland
area increased by 34 and 58 percent during 1961 and 2011, respectively (Paillard et al. 2014, p. 95). In
comparison, Asia and the Middle East and Northern Africa (MENA) region have moderately expanded their
cultivated land area, (23 and 14 percent, respectively) and countries of the former Soviet Union (FSU) as well
as OECD countries have even witnessed a decline in their share of cultivated land cover (Paillard et al. 2014,
ibid).
Increases in cultivated land have often come at the cost of other land uses, primarily forests. For
instance, in SSA, the increase in cultivated land area was correlated with deforestation (i.e. a decline in the
forest share of the regional land area), with an annual deforestation rate of 0.26 percent between (between
1961 and 2000). In the case of LAM, deforestation too has been a way to expand cultivated land area, however,
other factors also seem to play a role, amounting to an effective annual deforestation rate of 0.24 percent
(during 1961 and 2000) (Paillard et al. 2014: 97 ff).
The Role of Biomass in the Sustainable Development Goals
13
Yet, it is important to stress that when considering land use changes, the importance of political,
environmental, social, technological and economic dynamics of land use and land availability also need to be
considered.1 For instance, in Former Soviet Union (FSU), a decline of cultivated land area has been observed, less due to competition for land, but as a result of underinvestment and retreat of the state from agricultural
production following the dissolution of the Soviet Union post-19891. Another example is the MENA region
(especially in Yemen, Iraq and Iran), where deforestation is a wide-spread phenomenon even though these
countries expanded their cultivated land areas only moderately. In Iran, for instance, the World Bank suggests
that the forest area has decreased from 19.5 million hectares in 1944 to 12.4 million hectares in 2000 (World
Bank 2007).
A study by the European Union concludes that about 58 million hectares, or 24 percent of the world
wide gross deforestation between 1990 and 2010, is not connected to the “conversion of forests for clear
consumption purposes or other reported deforestation cause and remain unexplained” (European
Commission 2013, p. 19 ff). Overall, however, the conversion of forest land for crop production, livestock
farming and logging explains the largest share (55 percent) of worldwide gross deforestation. In this context,
it is disconcerting to see that future areas of land expansion for crop production will likely come from forest
area which makes up “24% of the global area of land suitable for crop production” (approximately 900 million
hectares) (Kampman et al. 2008, p. 35). In addition, natural hazards (approximately 17 percent), urbanisation
and infrastructure development (4 percent) are significant drivers of worldwide gross deforestation
(European Commission 2013, p. 19 ff).
Overall, not only the land area has changed but also the use of this area, reflecting changing demands.
In the case of forests, for instance, not only the total amount of forest cover has been shrinking, globally, but
the use of the remaining forest cover has increasingly been switched to a productive forest model. Between
2000 and 2005, the area of productive forests rose by 2.5 million hectares to 109 million hectares, primarily in
the form of productive forest plantations for wood and fibre production, which accounted for 87 percent of the
total forest plantation area (Kampman et al. 2008, p. 16). Overall, however, forest plantations continue to
compose minor share of global forest area which made up 30 percent of global land area (est. 2006) (ibid).
They amounted to approximately four percent (in 2006) of total forest cover (ibid).
To assess the qualitative implications of land use change, it is also important to consider the
expansion of arable land from the perspective of land use per commodity type (Kampman et al. 2008, p. 9).
During 1990 and 2006, land area used for oil crops (e.g. soybeans, cotton), vegetables and fruits production
increased greatly, while the land area used for cereal production and fodder crops decreased (Kampman et al.
2008, p. 9-10). Cereals continue to make up the largest share of commodities produced. However, the trend to
use arable land for purposes other than cereal production is not sufficiently reflected in the assumptions
underpinning actual projections of food security, which assume that the bulk of global arable land will be used
for grain production (Kampman et al. 2008, p. 10).
Finally, historical data emphasise the need to account for the global repercussions of regional or
national land use choices as well as land use changes that are often studied in view of trading links of regions
and countries: “Increasing domestic forest protection without simultaneously decreasing demand for wood
necessitates an increase in foreign imports, introducing a negative impact on forest biodiversity elsewhere
(…). On an international scale a net gain in forest protection is questionable if local protection shifts logging
pressure to natural forests in less privileged areas of the world (…)”(Mayer et al. 2005, p. 359).This has to be
kept in mind when weighing the costs and benefits of biomass, which can result in land use change, overuse
and net-export of underpinning ecosystems
2.3
Data and model limitations
Projections on future demand and supply are useful indicators, but they suffer from a
number of shortcomings, as has been illustrated above: For example, the FAO projections on
How to feed the world in 2050 do not account for additional biomass demand for energy and
material purposes. Moreover, the projections do not model the impacts of climate change, which
may influence long-term agricultural production significantly. However, such details are
important when discussing the sustainable production of biomass and to address the rising
commercial pressure on land and planetary boundaries. When considering land use change and
land availabilities, political, economic and social dimensions associated with land use,
conversion and availability need to be considered. Figure 1 illustrates the complexities
associated with competition for land, which may be driven by underlying and direct causes. If
The Role of Biomass in the Sustainable Development Goals
14
not considered appropriately and holistically, they might lead to conflict, which is illustrated in
Section 3 below.
Figure 1: Drivers and pressures of land competition
Source: Smith et al. (2010), p. 2942
3
Implications of increased production and consumption of biomass
The section above discussed that the demand for biomass for all its purposes, as implied by
the current set of SDGs, implies a crop expansion (low estimate of 123 million hectares) that is
unlikely to be met by the projected additional 71 million hectares of arable land available for
crop expansion (Bruinsma 2009; UNEP, 2014). The consequence of this may be increased
competition over land and other resources. This section discusses possible environmental, social
and economic implications of competition over land as a consequence of an increased
production of biomass, based on the empirical evidence already available today. The section
focuses primarily on the production of biomass for fuel and material purposes, including the
possible implications for food production and other types of biomass use. A number of potential
conflict areas are identified, and, where available, illustrated with case studies. By focusing on
implications from the emerging demand of biomass for fuel and material purposes, we do not
omit that other types of biomass production, particularly the production of feed for livestock, are
also connected to social, environmental and economic problems. Livestock production is
associated with problems very similar to those occurring in the context of biomass for fuel and
material purposes, namely land use change, land take, food security, biodiversity loss or
greenhouse gas emissions (Steinfeld et al. 2006; Weis, 2013).
Before discussing the implications of biomass for fuel and material purposes, it is important
to note that its production does not per se trigger the challenges discussed below. If managed
and governed appropriately, biomass for fuel and material purposes can be beneficial in many
respects. Vice versa, biomass produced under unsustainable conditions can be socially,
ecologically and economically detrimental. Along those lines one must also address the question
who benefits from biomass production and how opportunities associated to biomass production
are determined and distributed in the first place.
Whether biomass is produced sustainably is closely linked to the conditions of production,
most notably agricultural practices. In many respects, however, these conditions are also
determined by social, political and economic processes which take place outside the farm. One
The Role of Biomass in the Sustainable Development Goals
15
accordingly has to account for dynamics in the realm of regional, national and international
political relations, policy and international finance and trade in order to fully account for the
implications of an increased demand of biomass (Duvenage et al. 2013).
For example trade and investment determine patterns of all kinds of biomass production
and consumption worldwide, be it food, feed, fuel or materials. By driving demand for land
based products, trade and investment decisions also represent a major factor pushing for land
competition and land use change. The influence by trade and investment will at times contradict
domestic efforts for sustainable resource planning and governance. International trade
obligations may thus counteract domestic attempts to offset to consequences from rising food
prices or to introduce environmentally or socially sound practices. Last but not least, there is
much controversy surrounding the question to what extent food commodity speculation
influences the food price to a degree that food security is at stake (cf. von Braun 2008, p. 2; de
Schutter 2010, p. 1). Consequently, international trade and investment need to be recognized
both as drivers of unsustainable development trajectories and also as a powerful field of
incentive setting on the road to sustainable biomass production and consumption.
The section shows that the conditions under which biomass for fuel and material purposes is
produced vary at national and regional level, i.e. biomass production varies in a European or
North American context as well as in an African, Latin American or Asian. At the same time, there
are a range of factors, particularly related to the environmental problems associated with the
unsustainable production of biomass, which tend to be similar across regions. Soil erosion,
biodiversity loss and increased greenhouse gas emissions from land use change are challenges
that developed and developing nations deal with. Facing similar environmental problems, the
difference between those nations or regions is the capacity and measures taken to address such
challenges. Whereas problems associated with biomass for fuel and material purposes can occur
anywhere, it is safe to assume that these problems tend to become particularly detrimental in
contexts already characterised by environmental degradation and/or socio-political and
economic inequality (Beringer et al. 2011, p. 299).
3.1
Social implications of an increased production of biomass for non-food, non-feed
purposes
The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) identifies a wide range of social,
economic and environmental implications from the production of biomass for fuel and material
purposes (IPCC 2014b, pp. 100 ff.). In the social dimension the authors discuss implications as
diverse as labour rights, gender equality, capacity building, loss of traditional cultural practices,
or conflicts between competing land use types (ibid.).
Table 2 below provides an adapted summary of the IPCC’s assessment on social implications
from the production of biomass for non-food and non-feed purposes. The table picks up on our
argument that effects from biomass production and consumption can either be negative or
beneficial, depending on the contextual circumstances in which they occur. The table further
indicates that effects, be they negative or positive, can occur over different scales, i.e. from local
to national to international. While the IPCC’s assessment provides a good overview, it does not
sufficiently address the emerging global dimension of biomass production. For example, current
trends in biomass production are influenced by regional or international policies such as the EU
Biofuel Directive or private governance schemes such as the Responsible Agricultural
Investment principles by the World Bank, or the Voluntary Guidelines by the FAO. Policies like
these determine what is being produced, how production takes place, where and by whom.
The Role of Biomass in the Sustainable Development Goals
16
Table 2: Social implications of the production of biomass for fuel and material purposes
Social Scale
Effect
Scale
Can improve (+) or decrease (‐) land tenure and use rights for local
stakeholders
Cross‐sectorial coordination (+) or conflicts (‐) between forestry,
agriculture, energy, and/or mining
Impacts on labour rights along the value chain
+/‐
+/‐
Local to national to
international
Local to national
+/‐
Local to national
Competition with food security including food availability (through
reduced food production at the local level), food access (due to price
volatility), usage (as food crops can be diverted towards biofuel
production), and consequently to food stability.
Integrated systems can improve food production at the local level
creating a positive impact towards food security
Increasing (+) or decreasing (‐) existing conflicts or social tension
‐
Local to global
+
Local
+/‐
Local to national
Impacts on traditional practices: using local knowledge in production
and treatment of bioenergy crops (+) or discouraging local knowledge
and practices (‐)
Displacement of small‐scale farmers. Bioenergy alternatives can also
empower local farmers by creating local income opportunities
Promote capacity building and new skills
+/‐
Local
+/‐
Local
+
Local
Gender impacts
+/‐
Local to national
Source: Table adapted from IPCC (2014b). IPCC Fifth Assessment Report Chapter 11 on Agriculture, Forestry and Other
Land Use (AFOLU) (2014 (11): 100 ff.)
All of the social implications listed in Table 1 require attention. Here, we decided to focus
on two aspects: (1) food security and (2) struggles over access to land.
1) Biomass and food security: The question whether biomass production for nonfood / non-feed purposes threatens food security is undoubtedly the most contested question
when discussing the implications of biomass production for fuel and material purposes. With
805 million people being estimated to be chronically hungry (FAO, 2014b, p. 1), food security
must remain at the heart of the Sustainable Development Goals and the post-2015 development
agenda.
Reducing the land available for food production in favour of land cultivated with crops
for fuel and material purposes, has been shown to reduce per capita food availability and,
associated with this, a rise in food prices (Alves Finco and Doppler 2010, p. 194; Haberl et al.
2013, p. 35 ff.). Rising food prices, particularly for staple crops, like rice and wheat, are of
general concern for net food consumers anywhere. The hardest hit, however, are the poor, who
spent a large share of their household income on food (von Braun 2008, p. 4; Koizumi 2013, p.
107). The world food crisis in 2008 illustrated that a surge in food prices for staples like wheat,
corn and rice caused massive social unrest and political instability in both poor and developed
nations. For example, wheat retail prices in Upper and Lower Egypt increased on average by 50
percent from January to May 2008, causing social unrests (FAO, 2014c). The government of Haiti
was toppled partially because of the high food prices that added to the broader discontentment
with the government.
It is widely agreed that the 2008 food crisis was caused by a mix of different factors
including diversion of food crops into biofuel production, in addition to the record high prices of
crude oil, which resulted in an increase in the search for alternatives to fossil fuels, the lack of
storage systems in many countries, bad harvests in some major production regions and the
crisis of the financial system, which resulted in a diversion of capital into natural resources and
agricultural commodities (von Braun 2008, p. 2).
The Role of Biomass in the Sustainable Development Goals
17
What is particularly noteworthy with regard to the problem of rising food prices is that,
in a global market for food commodities, the food price dimension of biomass production has
implications far beyond the locality where the biomass is produced. In other words, food prices
in one part of the world can influence food security in others. Land use and production related
decisions are to some degree made at farm level and to some other degree based on regional or
national agricultural planning; economic incentives set by agricultural and market policies; and
legal frameworks. Moreover, food security might also be put at risk, if major exporters of food
use their production surpluses for domestic biofuels production rather than delivering it to
world markets (see our earlier discussion on trade and investment) (Haberl et al. 2013, p. 40).
Decisions to change agricultural production from food crop to fuel and fibre crops,
therefore, go much further than the local scale that actors and decision-makers usually take into
consideration. In most cases, producers, investors and policy-makers do not account for the
negative implications they cause. The setting of food prices is a ‘transboundary’ challenge where
land use decisions and land-intensive policies (e.g. EU Biofuels Directive) of one political or legal
jurisdiction are responded to and/or have to be dealt with by actors in other adjacent and even
far detached jurisdictions.
In discussing likely implications of a biomass related decrease in land area available for
food production, one should also account for possibilities to counteract this trend. Examples
include productivity increases (as discussed in Section 2), the use of marginal land, mixed
production systems, food waste management and a re-engaging in food production as a reaction
to rising prices. At this point, it is important to note that neither of these options guarantees any
positive effects regarding land competition and its associated negative implications. Instead it is
once again the conditions under which these measures are enacted that determine their relative
success or failure. One must further note that alleviating the pressure on land by either of these
measures does not automatically change the political economy of food pricing and food
distribution.
The use of marginal or degraded land has been championed as a win-win solution by
many supporters of biomass for fuel and material purposes. Several studies indicate that under
specific conditions biomass production on degraded lands does not interfere with food
production, but also entails a range of positive environmental effects including soil protection,
water retention, biodiversity habitation and carbon sequestration (Van Dam et al. 2009, p. 1705;
for a review on this debate cf. Immerzeel et al. 2014). As these studies are indeed promising, in
practice, however, biomass is rarely produced on marginal or degraded land. The reason for this
is that biomass production on degraded land is in many cases economically unfeasible either vis
a vis alternative crops (Swinton et al. 2011) or owing to insufficient yields (Rajagopal 2007).
What is more, even if the production on marginal or degraded land was economically
profitable, the second crucial condition, namely ‘unused’, will seldom apply (Baka 2014; Cotula
2012, p. 655; Dufey et al. 2007, p. 13). In fact, there is hardly any land which is literally empty
and unused (Berndes et al. 2003; Rossi and Lambrou 2008). For example, the Rights and
Resources Initiative reports that over 93% of land used for mining, logging, agriculture and oil
and gas development has been inhabited and used prior to those activities (Alforte et al. 2014, p.
1). Therefore, competing demands between biomass and food production and biomass and
biodiversity habitats can result in a range of additional negative implications, such as change
from other land use types and the expulsion of land users (German et al. 2013; Cotula 2012;
Mwakaje 2012; Scheidel and Sorman 2012).
Mixed production systems only represent a feasible strategy to offset land competition
by way of integrating fuel and material production into crop rotation, if the market for biomass
crops accepts the sale of rather small quantities and -in the case of annual plants like maizeseasonal availability. Despite several cases in which biomass production is successfully
integrated into small and medium scale agriculture with crop rotation or intercropping systems
The Role of Biomass in the Sustainable Development Goals
18
(Langeveld et al. 2013; Egeskog et al. 2011), still the great majority of biomass is produced
under large scale monoculture conditions.
As discussed in Section 2.1., on-farm and off-farm waste management represent a
promising strategy to decrease overall pressures on land. Between 5% and 30% of food crops
produced are lost due to insufficient postharvest treatment including, storage, pest management
and transport. Food spoilage and waste account for annual losses of $310 billion USD in
developing countries, where nearly 65% of food is lost at the production, processing and
postharvest stages (CTA 2012, p. 1). Depending on the crop, between 15 and 35% of food may be
lost before it even leaves the field (ibid.). Similar problems occur at retail and consumption level
where food crops are lost due to periodical oversupply and insufficient consumption planning.
The United States Department for Agriculture accordingly estimates an annual loss of around
31% of food worth 163 billion USD in the United States alone (Buzby and Hyman 2012, p. 561).
A significant reduction in on-farm and off-farm food waste could increase food availability.
Successful food waste management could also relieve pressures on land and open up additional
land for other uses including the production of biomass for fuel and material purposes.
(2)
Biomass and access to land: The production of biomass for fuel and material
purposes can entail a loss of access to land among marginalized social groups. In many such
cases increasing land demand and, associated with this, competition between different types of
land uses can result in social conflict and the expulsion of marginalized actors vis-a-vis a
concentration of land among powerful actors (German et al. 2013).
Dramatic shifts in access are less likely whenever a farmer has secure land rights and
sufficient financial resources. Land distribution is predominantly unequal in countries and
regions with weak law enforcement systems, weak civil societies and political and economic
inequality (Cotula et al. 2008, p. 14). Redistribution in access to land also tends to occur
alongside major changes in land use, e.g. when forests or pastoral lands are transformed to
agricultural land. Insecure land rights and radical changes in land use are particularly common
in less and least developed countries.
A loss in access to land is partly driven by governments who expropriate, redistribute or
withdraw land from users and allocate this land to biofuel producers based on the assumption
that biofuel crop production is economically more viable than other types of land use (Cotula et
al. 2008, p. 24). Another driver to loss of access are market forces which imply that the highest
bidder usually gains access to land and decides over land use (Cotula and Toulmin 2007). The
production of biomass for fuel and material purposes is particularly likely to attract actors who
are able to engage in large scale farming and to search economies of scale. Market forces may
also foster changes in access to land by women, because control over increasingly high-value
land may shift from women to men (Rossi and Lambrou 2008, p. 7). Loss of access to land also
occurs indirectly, i.e. by other factors which are in turn caused by the spread of production of
biofuel crops. For example, “increases in food prices linked to the spread of biofuels may change
the economic terms of trade between agriculture and other sectors of the economy, and between
rural and urban areas. As food crops are displaced from higher value lands, they may retreat to
areas that are less fertile but still fit for farming, pushing current users onto other lands.” (see
Cotula et al. 2008: pp. 24)
The redistribution of access to land is often accompanied by discourses in which
forested, pastoral and other types of land are erroneously labelled as fallow or waste lands
(Baka 2014; Cotula et al. 2008). Alternatively, activities practiced by local communities are
labelled as economically inefficient, environmentally harmful with slash and burn agriculture
practices as one prominent example, socially backward or of minor significance to overall socioeconomic development. What follows from this relabeling of land and its uses, is that not only
are certain land use types are championed over others, but there is often also a shift in the actors
that are granted access to the land (Duvenage et al. 2013; Ewing and Msangi 2009; Hall et al.
The Role of Biomass in the Sustainable Development Goals
19
2009; German et al. 2013). Box 4 below cites a case study by Cotula et al. (2008) on large scale
bioethanol production in Mozambique. The authors’ case represents a perfect illustration of how
in particular large scale biofuel production can result in social conflict regarding land access.
Box 4: Case study: Large scale biofuel production and access to land in Mozambique cited from
Cotula et al. (2008, pp: 35-36)
The Mozambican government has pursued policies to attract large-scale investment in biofuels.
Recent signing of a contract between the government and the London-based Central African Mining and
Exploration Company (CAMEC) for a large bioethanol project, called Procana, illustrates this. Procana
involves the allocation of 30,000 ha of land in Massingir district, in the Southern province of Gaza, for a
sugar cane plantation and a factory to produce 120 million litres of ethanol a year. The land was allocated
on a provisional basis for two years, within which the investor must initiate project implementation.
Concerns have already been raised with regards to the effects of Procana on access to both land and water
for local groups. The plantation will abstract water from a dam, fed by a tributary of the Limpopo River,
which also supports irrigated smallholder agriculture. Farmers downstream have expressed concerns that
the Procana project will absorb the bulk of available water, leaving little for local farmers. Government
officials have disputed these calculations, arguing that the dam has enough capacity to meet the water
demand of both Procana and local irrigation schemes. As for land, the Procana project attracted criticism
from representatives of international donors and local communities on the grounds that the land allocated
to the project had already been promised to four local communities displaced from their land by the
creation of the Limpopo Transfrontier Park, a joint conservation initiative among Mozambique, South
Africa and Zimbabwe. The displaced communities, numbering over 1,000 families, were promised
housing, electricity, running water and grazing at the new site after a protracted three year battle with the
government, in which they were supported by a local human rights organisation ORAM (Organizacao
Rural de Ajuda Mutua, Rural Organisation for Mutual Help). However, according to press reports, the date
of the planned relocation has been postponed several times and has not yet occurred as the same tract of
land has been granted to the Procana bioethanol project. Community leaders have been told that there is
sufficient land in the site for both the new villages and the biofuel plantations, but they have yet to see any
construction work begin.
3.2
Economic risks and opportunities associated with an increase in biomass
production for non-food, non-feed purposes
The IPCC’s Fifth assessment report discusses a range of economic risks and
opportunities that emerge in the context of the production of biomass for non-food and non-feed
purposes. Table 3 represents an adapted summary of the IPCC’s findings. A key message to be
taken from the table is that, as with the social implications of biomass production, also economic
implications can be either beneficial or detrimental depending on the circumstances in which
production occurs.
The table further alludes to the fact that economic effects associated to biomass
production must also be differentiated with respect to different actor groups. Similar to our
earlier example on land losses vis-a-vis land concentration, also an economic assessment of
biomass production may thus indicate that there are both winners and losers in that process. In
other words, considering the large variety of stakeholders involved, biomass production is
seldom a genuine economic win-win situation, nor does it represent a situation where everyone
loses out. Finally, as before, economic risks and opportunities from biomass production can
occur over different scales.
The Role of Biomass in the Sustainable Development Goals
20
Table 3: Economic risks and opportunities from the production of biomass for non-food
and non-feed purposes
Economic Scale
Increase in economic activity, income generation, and income
diversification
Mono-cropping and contract farming imply higher degree of
economic dependence
Increase (+) or decrease (‐) market opportunities
Effect
+
Scale
Local
-
Local
+/‐
Local to national
There can be trade-offs between different land uses, reducing
land availability for local stakeholders.
Contribute to the changes in prices of feedstock
-
Local
+/‐
Local to global
May contribute to energy independence (+), especially at the local
level (reduce dependency on fossil fuels)
May promote concentration of income and/or increase poverty if
sustainability criteria and strong governance is not in place
Uncertainty about mid‐ and long‐term revenues
+
Local to national
‐
Local to regional
‐
Local to national
Decreasing degree of domestic food security and increasing
dependence on food imports
Social welfare costs from unsustainable biomass production
-
National
-
National to global
Employment creation vis a vis loss of employment in other land
use sectors
Increasing infrastructure coverage (+). However if access to
infrastructure and/or technology is reduced to few social groups
it can increase marginalization (‐)
Bioenergy options for generating local power or to use residues
may increase labour demand, creating new job opportunities.
Technology might reduce labour demand (‐).
-/+
Local to regional
+/‐
Local
+
Local
‐
Local
Source. Table adapted from IPCC (2014b). Fifth Assessment Report Chapter 11 on Agriculture, Forestry
and Other Land Use (AFOLU) (2014 (11): 100 ff.)
One important economic implication of biomass production for fuel and material
purposes relates to the aforementioned rise in food prices and the burden this poses particularly
on poor consumers. Other economic risks and opportunities are in turn most immediately felt on
the production side, i.e. by farmers and other practitioners from the agricultural sector (German
et al. 2011).
A number of empirical cases indicate that rising agricultural commodity prices and the
marketing of biomass for non-food, non-feed purposes can represent an opportunity for creating
additional income and rural growth (Amigun et al. 2011, p. 1362; van der Hilst and Faaij 2012, p.
410; Arndt et al. 2012, p. 1930; Danielsen et al. 2009; Hanff et al. 2011; Huang et al. 2012;
Mwakaje 2012). Other cases show that producers also face considerable economic risks
associated to biomass production. The industrial character of the sectors that drive the demand
for biomass for fuel and material purposes implies that biomass is mainly derived from largescale monocultures. Similar to problems that exist in livestock production, for instance in the
case of soy production, this tends to decrease crop rotation and other types of on-farm
diversification. Diversification functions as a traditional safeguard in agriculture against
fluctuating market prices and crop failures. Monocultures planted throughout the year do not
provide such safeguards (German et al. 2011). This problem is particularly eminent if the farmer
choses to plant perennials, e.g. palm oil trees (ibid.).
Similar challenges to those discussed with respect to monocultures may occur with
respect to capital investments into infrastructure and machinery. For instance biogas fermenters
The Role of Biomass in the Sustainable Development Goals
21
or special purpose harvesters require large capital investments and are therefore often only
economical as long as the price for electricity remains above a certain critical level.
Another potentially problematic implication from a boost biomass production is found at
the macro-economic scale. A country reducing its food production output for the benefit of
biomass for fuel and material purposes may - ceteris paribus - become more dependent on food
imports. In times of crisis, a high dependence on food imports can become problematic can lead
to highly negative trade balances.
Lastly, if we consider social welfare implications, we also must account for the fact that
all of the social, economic and environmental implications from unsustainable biomass
production will also represent an economic burden to the societies facing those effects.
3.3
Ecological implications of an increased production of biomass for non-food, nonfeed purposes
Ecological implications from the production of biomass can vary greatly in intensity and
extent in different locations and for different crops. Many environmental degradation processes
that can be unleashed by the unsustainable production of biomass are irreversible. In addition,
many of the ecological consequences described in the following can also occur alongside almost
any type of agricultural production other than that of biomass for fibre and material purposes.
The consequences described are thus related to land use change and unsustainable agricultural
production in general. Table 4 represents a slightly adapted version of the IPCC’s fifth
assessment report’s synopsis on potential environmental effects from the production of biomass
for non-food and non-feed purposes.
Table 4: Environmental implications from the production of biomass for non-food
purposes
Environmental Scale
Biofuel plantations can promote deforestation and/or forest
degradation, under weak or no regulation
When used on degraded lands, perennial crops offer large‐scale
potential to improve soil carbon and structure, abate erosion and
salinity problems. However, degraded land only seldom allows
economically feasible production of biomass crops
Large‐scale bio‐energy crops can have negative impacts on soil
quality, water pollution, and biodiversity.
Biomass production can displace other land uses and ecosystem
services
Unsustainable intensification leads to higher environmental
impact
Multi-cropping systems can provide bioenergy while better
maintaining ecological diversity and reducing land‐use
competition. However, multi-cropping arrangements are seldom
developed as they tend to disintegrate with the industrial
character of biomass production and consumption
Effect
‐
Scale
Local to global
-/+
Local to global
‐/+
Local to
transboundary
Local to global
‐
‐/+
Local to
transboundary
Local to national
Table adapted from IPCC (2014b). IPCC Fifth Assessment Report Chapter 11 on Agriculture, Forestry and Other Land Use
(AFOLU) (2014 (11): 100 ff.)
First and foremost, a rising demand in land for biomass production results in different
forms of land use change (Bringezu et al. 2012, p. 224). Land use change for biomass production
further occurs from forest areas, wetland areas and other non-agricultural areas (Alves Finco
and Doppler 2010; Koh and Wilcove 2008). In cases like these, land use change is, prior to the
actual planting of the biomass crop, often connected to clearing, drainage, fertilization and
intensive ploughing. All of which are tantamount to a significant transformation of the
The Role of Biomass in the Sustainable Development Goals
22
ecosystem (Gasparatos et al. 2011, p. 114). See also Box 5 for a case study on oil palm expansion
in Indonesia.
Clearing the land of its plant cover often entails soil erosion as a consequence to the soils
sudden exposure to wind, water and radiation. As such, land clearing for biomass production
contributes to what conservative estimates for global soil erosion amount to a loss of 24 billion
tonnes of fertile soil annually (Quinton et al. 2010; Bai et al. 2008. Furthermore, soil exposure
catalyses biochemical processes, like nitrification, which in the long run decrease soil fertility.
Once the preparation and planting of the biomass crop has started also these agricultural
practices can become a source of soil erosion. Unsustainable agricultural practices such as
intensive ploughing can further cause leakage and loss of nitrates, phosphorus and other
mineral soil components risking soil and water contamination (Martinelli and Filoso 2008,
p.888). Along the same lines, there is the imminent risk of soil and water contamination through
the misuse of harmful agrochemicals. Soil erosion, soil fertility loss and contamination of soils
and water bodies can become so severe that the production of biomass and other land based
products is put at risk (Martinelli and Filoso 2008, p. 887).
Soils under production are integral part of ecosystems. Negative effects from land use
change and unsustainable agricultural practices, therefore, tend to affect other parts of the
ecosystem such as water, air and living species (Gasparatos et al. 2011, p. 114). Land clearing,
soil erosion and the breakdown of organic matter can severely decrease the rate of water
retention in catchment areas (Martinelli and Filoso 2008, p. 888). Limiting the soils capacity to
store water can be simultaneously the cause for drought as well as for flooding in periods of high
precipitation.
Another dimension of land use change related problems are carbon and methane
emissions. Carbon and methane emissions occur in the course of the biochemical breakdown of
organic matter in exposed soils as well as from the burning and biochemical breakdown of trees
and other woody plants (Searchinger et al. 2008; Searchinger et al. 2009; Smith and Searchinger
2012). On the Indonesian island of Borneo alone, the clearing of forests for palm oil plantations
between 2000 and 2010 resulted in CO2 emissions of 0.038 to 0.045 GtC y-2 (Carlson and
Curran 2013, p. 347). If not accounted for, the emissions problem associated to land use change
and unsustainable agricultural practices will jeopardize the very aim of using biomass as an
emissions-neutral alternative to fossil fuels (Danielsen et al. 2009; Fargione et al. 2008). On top
of immediate emissions, greenhouse gas emissions also occur from the use of agricultural
machinery and, even more so, during the production and application of mineral nitrogen-based
fertilizers (ibid.).
Land use change, for instance the clearing forests for agricultural crops, may further
result in changes in local micro-climate. Changes in micro-climate like temperature rise,
increased local exposition to radiation and wind or changing precipitation patterns can have
negative effects on agricultural productivity. Over and above, a changing microclimate can also
affect human and animal health (Cançado et. al. 2006, p. 725).
The Role of Biomass in the Sustainable Development Goals
23
Box 5: Case study: Oil palm expansion and rainforest destruction in Indonesia
A particularly telling case to show the often dramatic environmental consequences of deforestation
associated with oil palm expansion is Indonesia. The expansion of oil palm plantations for food, cosmetics,
and fuel products is one of the most significant causes of rainforest destruction in Southeast Asia. In
Indonesia alone deforestation of rain forest for palm oil plantations is estimated at more than 4 million
hectares (Colchester et al. 2006; CIFOR 2013). In Indonesia, more than 56% of oil palm expansion has
occurred by converting rainforest to palm plantations (Koh and Wilcove 2008, p. 60). Clearing tropical
forests produced a carbon debt that lasts for decades to centuries, thus contradicting one of the main
reasons for pursuing biofuels in the first place. Plantation expansion in Kalimantan alone is projected to
contribute 18–22% of Indonesia’s 2020 CO2-equivalent emissions (Carlson et al. 2012, p. 283). Apart from
carbon storage, conversion compromises other vital ecosystem functions provided by rainforests that
cannot be replaced by plantations, such as biodiversity, habitat complexity, seed dispersal and pollination
services (Koh and Wilcove 2008). In 2009 the Indonesian government disclosed plans for another
dramatic increase of the area planted with oil palms of up to 20 million ha during the next 10-20 years,
mostly coming from cleared forests. In May 2011 the President of Indonesia signed a two-year
moratorium on new permits to clear primary forests and peat lands, potentially slowing oil palm
expansion; however, secondary forests and existing contracts are exempt.
Last but not least, land use change can cause loss of biodiversity due to habitat destruction,
the use of agrochemicals and machinery (Koh and Wilcove 2008). The loss of soil biodiversity
leads to the reduction of numerous essential services, including releasing nutrients in forms that
can be used by plants and other organisms, purifying water by removing contaminants and
pathogens, contributing to the composition of the atmosphere by participating in the carbon
cycle, and providing a major source of genetic and bio-chemical resources.
4
Beyond silo-thinking towards a nexus perspective: Conclusions and
further research needs
This paper shows that crop expansions required by biomass demand, as implied by the
Sustainable Development Goals, may not be possible because not enough arable land will be
available for such crop expansions. Taking a nexus approach, this may lead to conflicts over land
and other natural resources that the paper discussed. Our assessment of the implicit role of
biomass finds that many SDG targets rely on natural resources for their achievement – even
though the term biomass in itself is never actually used in current wording of the SDGs. This
applies naturally to targets on food and forestry, but also to those on energy and sustainable
consumption and production. While several targets aim for reducing either the overuse or the
demand for biomass through taking measures for energy efficiency or against food waste, it
should be noted that the achievement of many biomass-related targets rests almost exclusively
upon an expected increase in biomass production, be it an increase in food production to feed a
growing population, an increase in the production of modern wood-based fuels and fuel crops to
serve as alternative energy source, or an increase in forest biomass to serve an increasing
demand for wood based products and carbon storage.
Complex problems require integrated solutions. It was stressed that the biomass demand, as
implied by the Sustainable Development Goals, may not be feasible - or advisable - from an
integrated perspective on sustainable development. The SDG targets, in their current framing, do
not specify any exact quantities with respect to the incremental biomass needed. The attempt to
discuss a selection of existing projections in this paper can, therefore, only serve to emphasise
the possible extent to which the SDG targets would affect the demand and production of
biomass. However, the land take associated with the rising demand for different forms of
biomass might negatively impact the societies and ecologies that the production of biomass
depends on, – for instance, in the form of environmental degradation, deforestation, loss of
biodiversity and soil fertility, negative climatic impacts, increasing water scarcity; and/or social
The Role of Biomass in the Sustainable Development Goals
24
processes of removal of land users of their land as a result of the commercial pressure on land,
and rising hunger.
Importantly, the unsustainable production of biomass can undermine its sustained and
secure availability and accessibility for all. And, it will be a major obstacle in achieving those
development objectives at the core of the Rio+20 sustainable development agenda and the SDGs
– namely, to “end poverty in all its forms everywhere” (Goal 1); “reverse land degradation and
loss of biodiversity” (Goal 15); and “promote peaceful and inclusive societies for sustainable
development” (Goal 16). Promoting a holistic development perspective, this paper also shows
that the clear cut distinction of environmental, social and economic implications of biomassrelated land competition is in many respects oversimplified. Strikingly, the SDGs treat the
competing development demands for food, feed, fibre and fuel rather disconnected. This silo
approach neglects the fact that all types of biomass depend on the same stock of underpinning
natural resources, and to achieve all the required productivity increases would put substantial
pressure on these resources, most notably land.
To manage these trade-offs and interlinkages between different land-consuming
development objectives, an integrated approach is necessary, that is aware that the effects cut
across different sectors, time-scales and spaces; and affect both societies and ecologies. Take, for
example, the issue of environmental degradation that results from unsustainable production of
biomass. Like soil erosion and water scarcity, degradation affects the poorest most significantly,
often increasing poverty, and outmigration from rural areas. Moreover, it is vital to account for
the trans-boundary character of biomass production and consumption that spans across
political and legal jurisdictions, a fact which increases the complexity for governance and
management strategies.
The year 2015 will be a milestone for sustainability governance worldwide, when the
international community decides upon the final set of global sustainable development goals
(SDGs) as part of the Post-2015 development agenda. The SDGs are supposed to constitute a
comprehensive normative framework whose goals will be universally applicable, with targets
being tailored according to the specific needs and circumstances of nation-states. Moreover, they
transcribe the idea of dealing with external effects of sovereign nation-state decisions by
incorporating them into a system of common but differentiated responsibility. Along the
principle of subsidiarity, the globally negotiated goals shall be reached at different levels of
governance: the national, the regional and the international level.
It is up to member states of the United Nations how and by which means the SDGs are being
met in the future. As the SDGs will be a much more complex set of goals, covering a much wider
area of issues than the formerly agreed upon Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), it is
crucial to start thinking of adequate governance schemes that strike the balance between
efficiency, effectiveness, and legitimacy. To advance the discussion about governance under the
SDG umbrella, it is important to consider potential governance approaches that might allow
moderating the trade-offs and interlinkages of the increasing and diverse demand for biomass
identified.
As a starting point, the previous assessment shows the need to account for international
implications, the macro-political setting, as well as the regional differences that are part of
biomass production and consumption. For the implementation of the SDGs at different levels of
governance, this means firstly, a profound discussion on how to strengthen the policy coherence
within the SDG framework, as well as beyond, to create synergies and enhance traction of the
SDGs.
As shown above assuming production increases to achieve goals and target, while halting the
loss of biodiversity and staying within the ecological boundaries maybe difficult. Moreover, in
view of biomass, the goals on trade and investment might collide with those on biodiversity and
The Role of Biomass in the Sustainable Development Goals
25
food security, when increasing amounts of biomass for fuel and material purposes are exported
from food insecure or biodiversity rich countries. This may weaken the underpinning
ecosystems, ultimately resulting in ecological degradation, increased hunger and poverty.
More coherence is required in the way the three dimensions of sustainable development are
integrated and governed, domestically and regarding international implications, and the
discussion about how the eradication of hunger, energy insecurity, and poverty (Goals 1 & 2) can
be achieved in a more inclusive way (Goal 16) without the cost of further land degradation and
loss of biodiversity (Goal 15) needs to be advanced. The discussion on what responsibilities and
governance mechanisms are most suitable at what level of governance to do so should be held
by all stakeholders. While those questions arise already in the set of goals discussed at UN level
today, more norm collisions and uncertainties about how to disaggregate global goals in national
responsibilities can be expected once implementation in member-states will be on the political
agendas.
Moreover, the broader macro-political setting within which the SDGs are placed, would need
to be systematically assessed, to identify mechanisms and normative frameworks in place that
might prove beneficial or challenging for the SDGs’ universal, multidimensional (social,
economic, environmental) features. From the perspective of policy coherence, this means to
account for those frameworks and mechanisms -such as the Convention on Biological Diversity
(CBDR) or the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples that are in accord
with sustainable biomass production, and look whether it is possible to build on their data,
insights, and/or institutions. Moreover, it is important to deliberate on necessary features of
sustainable biomass governance, such as trade standards and land governance, and look at the
status quo of existing governance regimes of international economic governance (e.g., WTO
regulations); national legislations; and private governance schemes. Do these support a more
sustainable governance of biomass? Would these need adjustments? How can we strengthen the
sustainability aspects within and across existing regimes? Would an overarching set of safeguard
principles be a useful starting point?
From the perspective of common but differentiated responsibilities, the norm collision also
raises questions of how the national applications of the universal goals should (ideally) look like
in a highly uneven international geography of development. For instance, to halt the loss of
biodiversity, industrialized countries could focus on the efficiency and overall reduction of their
total biomass consumption, to leave development space for the benefit of emerging economies
and least developed countries. And, regarding the international division of labour regarding
biomass production, a steering towards a more inclusive & environmentally sustainable
development within countries as well as worldwide would be advisable, as mentioned above.
These options appear rather unlikely. However, we need to explore how we can operationalize
the global dimension of these universal goals at different levels of governance in a way that
accounts for the differentiated responsibilities at play. From the viewpoint of biomass-related
land take and land competition, it is far from obvious what this means for what country.
Moreover, for the SDGs to be effective, it will be important to consider a review mechanism
to evaluate whether countries indeed pursue a sustainable agenda in their implementation of
the SDGs – both from the national and international perspective. Regional differences and
diverse experiences are met by the subsidiarity principle of the SDGs. However, it might be
important to add a component of flexibility of to respond to changing dynamics over time; as
well as to allow a country to revise a review mechanism and target in case this proofs ineffective
and/or turns out to have unintended consequences. In sum, throughout 2015 and beyond, the
debate and joint perspectives on these fundamental issues of sustainability (biomass)
governance must be held within a multistakeholder framework.
In view of the sustainable biomass that we covered in our paper, the following steps could be
useful to strengthen sustainable governance of biomass: It might be important to identify and
The Role of Biomass in the Sustainable Development Goals
26
assess existing safeguards and human rights regulations (e.g., responsibility to protect) or
frames (e.g., right to food) that might apply to the ecological and governance implications of
biomass production and consumption, and see whether they can be strengthened, and/or
informed by indicators. It might also be useful to build on and strengthen existing sustainability
governance mechanisms and agencies to promote sustainable biomass production and
consumption, rather than introduce a new set of institutions. It might also be advisable to start
an inventory of good policies. Moreover, it might be vital to create a space, for instance, a sort of
platform, to continuously discuss SDG topics in general, and sustainable biomass in particular.
Simultaneously, the great economic and power disparities between and countries worldwide
imply a move beyond market-based mechanisms in sustainability governance of biomass.
Theory on sustainable transformation suggests that the agency of state and non-state actors is
crucial for transformation, and needs alternative state policies as well as changes in the norms of
production and consumption. Finally, it is important to raise broad awareness on the
sustainability challenges of biomass, and to engage with the public on the topic of sustainable
production and consumption.
The Role of Biomass in the Sustainable Development Goals
27
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