Many countries regard bio-energy as an important element of sustainable energy production and climate change mitigation. This kind of energy is produced from agricultural products and wastes, domestic and industrial waste, and from organic materials such as rapeseed and sunflowers, which are often grown for the sole purpose of energy production. While these are indeed sources of renewable energy, their use can aggravate the problems of hunger, as well as access to land in certain parts of the world. At a side event on the “Role of Renewable Resources in an Era of Climate Change”,  organized by the IASS at the UN Climate Conference in Lima on 9 December, practitioners and experts from academia, civil society and policy discussed the use of agricultural crops for energy production and the role of fibres, for example, in the chemical industry. IASS researchers also participated in the ‘Global Landscapes Forum’, a large event that addressed climate change and its impact on land use, to discuss how sustainable development can be achieved.

At the side event on 9 December, Professor Suzana Kahn-Ribeiro, Secretary of State for the Climate Change Secretariat of Brazil, and Professor Amit Kumar from the Energy and Resources Institute in India explained that in both countries agricultural crops are not only used as food and feed, but also to produce energy. Residues such as rice husks as well as plants specifically cultivated for this purpose are used to produce bio-energy. Kahn-Ribeiro and Kumar described the use of biomass as an important element of measures to mitigate climate change and secure access to energy.

Youba Sorona, Special Advisor on Sustainable Development at the South Centre, an intergovernmental organisation of developing countries, and Lili Fuhr of the Heinrich Böll Stiftung warned that if agricultural crops for non-food, non-feed purposes are not produced sustainably, existing inequalities – e.g. inequitable access to land – could widen and natural resources may be put at risk. Daniel Gad from the World Farmers’ Organization argued that the needs of small-scale farmers need to be taken into account when discussing agricultural production for non-food, non-feed purposes, and that any initiatives that seek to address the challenges associated with this must be farmer-driven.

Members of the audience concluded that agriculture is central to strategies that try to deal with climate change and this should be taken into account in the global negotiations on the Sustainable Development Goals and an agreement on climate change in 2015. Technological solutions should be implemented within good governance structures to ensure that biomass is produced and consumed sustainably.

The Global Landscape Forum from 6 to 7 December attracted more than 1 700 participants. Alexander Müller, interim Secretary-General of the IASS, was a panelist in a session facilitated by Ivonne Lobos Alva of the IASS Global Soil Forum. The participants of this session discussed strategies to ensure the success of large-scale initiatives that seek to rehabilitate degraded land. Müller stressed that “for large-scale restoration initiatives to be successful, they must include governance issues, have clear objectives and ensure livelihoods for the poor.”