Thursday, September 08, 2011

Water management key to sustainable biofuel development, says UN

Water management key to sustainable biofuel development, says UN

Thursday, 08 September 2011 Antonio Barrero F.

At the end of August, the United Nations celebrated World Water Week in Stockholm (Sweden), where it released its Green Economy Report: a document which indicates that with an annual investment of 0.16% of global GDP in the water sector "water use could be made more efficient, enabling increased and sustainable agricultural, biofuel and industrial production".

Water management key to sustainable biofuel development, says UN

The United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) recently published its Green Economy Report, a document which indicates that "with an annual investment of $198 billion, or 0.16 per cent of global GDP by 2030, water use could be made more efficient, enabling increased and sustainable agricultural, biofuel and industrial production". The report also concludes that under this scenario – classified by UNEP as "ground-breaking" – it would be possible to "halve the number of people without sustainable access to safe drinking water and basic sanitation in less than four years".

The water-energy connection

Stockholm was also the setting for the launch of another UN report during World Water Week on water use for bioenergy production, which the UN believes is fundamental to the green economy. The Bioenergy and Water Nexus report was jointly produced by UNEP, the Oeko-Institut and the International Energy Agency Task 43. According to the study – which is based on the assumption that the relation between water and bioenergy is particularly complex – "renewable, sustainable sources of energy are an essential part of the transition to a low carbon, resource-efficient Green Economy".

No to bioenergy development… in some cases

The study finds that water use in bioenergy production varies depending on how feedstocks are cultivated and processed. Its authors therefore highlight that "bioenergy development needs to be carefully planned to avoid it adding to existing pressures", especially considering we live in a world which the UN points out uses more than 70 percent of global freshwater is used for agriculture, which not only produces food, but also animal fodder and fibre. In regard, the UNEP report is very explicit: "In some cases, these considerations may argue against bioenergy development".

As ever, it all depends how

However, the report outlines circumstances in which "well-planned bioenergy development" can help human development. UNEP concludes that careful planning can "improve agricultural practices, including promoting water efficiency and sustainable fertilizer use, and even improve access to water, thanks to water pumping and cleaning powered by bioenergy, and food security in the case of combined food-bioenergy production systems".

As such, the report's recommendations include:

1. Taking a holistic approach and a long-term perspective - Consider the context to identify the best use for water. There is no "one size fits all" approach. Apply a life-cycle approach, consider inter-relationships with other resource needs, and take into account the whole watershed.

2. Base decisions on impact assessments to ensure sustainable water management - Analyse bioenergy systems from a comprehensive socio-ecological perspective. Promote sustainable land and water use.

3. Design and implement effective water-related policies - These should cover feedstock production and energy conversion and monitor competition between sectoral uses of water.

4. Promote technology development - New technologies may help relieve pressure on water resources, but they will need a due diligence check before deployment.

5. Conduct further research, fill data gaps, and develop regionalized tools - Support international cooperation in research on bioenergy-related water impacts; address emerging and largely unexplored issues such as the potential and risks of coastal zones/microalgae, land-based microalgae and genetically modified organisms; monitoring needs to be done on a regular basis to fill data gaps and check compliance with regulations and sustainable production; Life Cycle Impact Assessment and water footprints are inadequate without regional tools that assess localised impacts.

For additional information:

UNEP Green Economy

UNEP bioenergy


Rodrigo González Fernández
Diplomado en "Responsabilidad Social Empresarial" de la ONU
Diplomado en "Gestión del Conocimiento" de la ONU
Diplomado en Gerencia en Administracion Publica ONU
Diplomado en Coaching Ejecutivo ONU( 
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