Over 80% of people in sub-Saharan Africa rely on biomass for cooking and heating.
Much of it, however, is harvested and used unsustainability due to the lack of access to clean, affordable alternatives and the use of inefficient applications (for combustion).
Inconsistency in monitoring and evaluating national bioenergy programmes make it difficult to track the contribution of biomass use to national sustainable development objectives. Gaps in the expertise of national researchers and policymakers, the decentralised nature of biomass and the lack of financial resources for data collection and analysis generate additional barriers.
“While awareness exists concerning bioenergy sustainability and some multi-stakeholder engagement, a clear and established means of measuring the sustainability of bioenergy is yet to be achieved across Africa. A robust understanding among stakeholders of the multiple benefits of sustainable bioenergy is lacking,” said Richard Munang, Climate Change coordinator for Africa at the UN Environment Programme.
“With the technical support from UN Environment, Ethiopian and Kenyan researchers are now applying sustainability indicators to various biomass pathways, using the Global Bioenergy Partnership (GBEP). These indicators look at the environmental, economic and social implications of biomass use,” Munang added.
With its partners, UN Environment is implementing a project designed to support policymakers in Ethiopia and Kenya to develop effective, integrated policies for sustainable bioenergy. It is structured around the use of 24 sustainability indicators. Results from the indicators can then be used to inform the decision-making process. The project focuses on building the capacity of those responsible for bioenergy issues to: identify critical bioenergy pathways; collect data; calculate the indicators and interpret the results, ultimately shaping bioenergy policy to meet sustainability objectives.
In Ethiopia, researchers are examining biogas from organic waste and solid biomass (charcoal and firewood) used in improved cookstoves for cooking and heating.
Tirhas Mebrahtu, the Global Bioenergy Partnership Focal Point, welcomed the partnership’s sustainable indicator report. It is expected to help the country monitor the Climate Resilient Green Economic Plan, while bringing benefits to the Ethiopian Environment and Forest Research Institute.
In Kenya, researchers are focusing on agricultural residues used by the tea industry, and charcoal produced from agroforestry resources and used by households.
“Tangible and scientist-based indicators will help us a lot to monitor the bioenergy sector and inform how it contributes to reach the Sustainable Development
Goals and the objectives of the Big Four Agenda of Kenya — food security, affordable housing, manufacturing and universal healthcare,” said Charles Sunkuli, former permanent secretary of the Ministry of Environment and Forestry of Kenya.
Technical support, provided by UN Environment and its partners, focuses on how to calculate both the greenhouse gas and non-greenhouse gas emissions associated with biomass use in the selected pathway, using a simple model developed specifically for the project. So far, over 15 researchers from national research centres and ministries have benefited from this support.
“As a result, researchers from the Ethiopian Environment and Forest Research Institute, Stockholm Environment Institute for Africa, Kenya Forestry Research Institute, Strathmore University as well as the World Agroforestry Centre have started using the new model,” said Kouadio Ngoran, Climate change expert at UN Environment, Africa Office.