UN study: ‘Urgent action’ needed to reduce biomass use in Africa


A new UN Environment Programme study calls for urgent action to address the production and consumption of biomass as a source of energy in Africa.

The study was launched at the 17th African Ministerial Conference on the Environment in Durban, South Africa.

The study presents the current status of biomass energy in Africa and explores ways to mitigate its negative impacts until a transition to cleaner and modern energy sources takes place.

Conducted by UNEP in collaboration with the African Union Commission (AUC), the study has found that biomass (firewood and charcoal) production in Africa accounted for 90% of round-wood production in 2016, of which 16% was converted to charcoal.

“In a region where deforestation and land degradation is high and progress towards achieving universal access to energy is still slow, African governments need to pay special attention to the sustainable management of biomass as a source of energy,” said Juliette Biao Koudenoukpo, UNEP’s Regional Director for Africa.

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According to the study, population growth, rapid urbanisation, poverty and lack of income growth remain the major drivers of biomass consumption in Africa. In addition, the study underlines that rapid rural population expansion will hamper the transition to cleaner cooking in the continent.

“People are massively using biomass for cooking and other energy needs in Africa and with rapid population growth, sound policies and long-term measures need to be put in place to avoid increasing negative consequences on health and the environment,” Biao added.  

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The study also found that over 65% of the population in sub-Saharan Africa will still rely on wood for cooking by 2050. It suggests that while tremendous efforts are being made by African countries to achieve global energy goals by 2030, urgent action is required to address the biomass energy use in the region to minimise its negative effect on human health and the environment.

“While renewable energy is advancing rapidly thanks to effort and investment, urgent action is required to address woodfuel use in the region. This is critical to meeting global energy goals by 2030 and ensuring the health of humans and forests in Africa,” Dr. Amani Abou-Zeid Commissioner for Infrastructure and Energy African Union Commission.

The study identifies a number of opportunities for achieving sustainable biomass energy production, marketing and consumption systems in Africa.

It proposes detailed technical and policy options at all levels, and calls on African countries to take the following measures necessary to tackle the issue of wood in the continent:

  • Increase investment in innovation and research and development in biomass technologies
  • Develop regional energy and cooking fuel policies and strategies that can be customized at national levels
  • Institutionalize sustainable forest management
  • Increase energy plantations and yield, and improve woodstove efficiency
  • Harmonise trade and regional charcoal strategies.

The study establishes the baseline data and information on woodfuel production and consumption, identifies opportunities for more sustainable use of wood and presents the key challenges that must be addressed at all levels in the wood and charcoal value chains. It also provides a range of satellite images to support the findings and proposed solutions.