Socio-economic consequences of increased biomass demand
Book chapter, 2013
A large-scale expansion of the use of biomass for energy and raw materials is likely to have substantial repercussions on social and economical conditions from the local to the global level. 2 These impacts can be both positive (e.g., job crea- tion, increased energy security, and improved health conditions) and negative (e.g., higher food prices leading to increased poverty and food insecurity). Whether deliberate or unintended, these socioeconomic consequences of increased demand for biomass and bioenergy need to be accounted for in a comprehensive assessment of biomass technologies.
The aim of this chapter is not to provide a comprehensive overview of the full
set of socio-economic effects of increased biomass use, given the multitude of existing bioenergy systems and the many ways in which they interact with and effect human welfare.3 Rather, the aim is to cast some light over some of the most frequent claimed and debated benefits and detriments of a large scale employ- ment of bioenergy technologies: (1) its potential to increase employment and promote development, especially in rural areas, (2) the impact on agricultural com- modity prices and the effect this in turn has on food security and poverty, mainly in developing countries, and (3) the extent to which increased bioenergy demand has contributed to a global rush for land, having a negative impact on local livelihoods.
A key conclusion emerging from this chapter is that the socio-economic conse- quences differ widely between bioenergy systems that are land intensive (e.g., crop-based biofuels) and those that are not (e.g., systems based on residue flows from agriculture and forestry), since increased demand for land is what drives the negative impacts on poverty, malnutrition and land rights. Formulating policies that account for this distinction is key if we are to realize the climate mitigation potential offered by bioenergy without concomitant adverse impacts on socio-economic development.