UNEP Releases Water & Bioenergy Paper

Joanna Schroeder

Water is becoming a growing global concern and according to a new issues brief released by the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), water could determine the degree to which bioenergy can contribute to combating climate change through renewable fuels. “Water and Bioenergy” was presented during the Convention on Biodiversity meeting (CBD COP10) in Nagoya, Japan.

One element of great concern addressed in the paper is in areas where water is already scarce, biofuels programs could increase environmental and social pressures. The paper continued by stating that “bioenergy development can have an impact on biodiversity on a number of levels: by changing land-use, introducing invasive species for use in biofuel production, overusing water and pushing agricultural production into areas with high conservation value (indirect land use change).” However, the paper also said that if done correctly, on both a global and local level, biofuel programs can be beneficial.

“There is no doubt that we need to decrease our reliance on fossil fuels and move to cleaner, more environmentally friendly options, but we need to make sure we are not creating more problems than we solve,” said Achim Steiner, Under-Secretary General of the United Nations and UNEP Executive Director.

Steiner continued, “We need to examine all the risks, so that we can take full advantage of the opportunities, for emissions cuts, for new green jobs, and for raising the standards of living for some of the world’s poorest communities.”

UNEP spells out some of those considerations in four issues papers now being circulated that compliment the report, “Accessing Biofuels,” launched last year.

In “Water and Bioenergy” the UNEP cites research that shows that two per cent, or 44 km3, of the global water withdrawals for irrigation is being used for bioenergy production. However, if current bioenergy standards and targets were fully implemented, a further 180 km3 of irrigation water would be needed, creating additional pressure on water resources and potentially impacting on food production and water supplies, especially in those areas already experiencing water stress.

According to the paper, the water footprint of bioenergy can be up to 400 times greater than that of traditional fossil fuels; therefore, the greatest challenge will be to determine how to meet future bioenergy demand without overexploiting or damaging water resources, and how to better manage bioenergy supply chains to reduce the pressure on water use and minimize impacts on water quality.

You can download “Water and Bioenergy” here.

Biodiesel, biofuels, Ethanol, Research, water