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Higher Demand for Biomass Can Drive Up Land Grabs

More demand for wood as a source of biomass could drive more acquisitions of land in developing countries with food security problems, says a new report by the International Institute for Environment and Development (IIED). The organization suggests greater public scrutiny and debate.

Wood accounts for 67% of global renewable energy supplies, and many countries in the global North are increasing their use of it both to reduce their reliance on costly fossil fuels and to mitigate climate change. Demand for wood outstrips supply by up to 600% as renewable energy targets become more ambitious. So investors are looking South where tropical climates allow for higher tree growth rates.

IIED acknowledges that new tree plantations in developing countries to be transformed into export wood could bring economic and social benefits to local people but they need to be managed well.

One of the risks of bad management is that these plantations can displace poor and marginalized communities from land they have tended for generations without any formal claim over, IIED said.

“All eyes are turned to food and biofuels, but tree plantations for biomass energy may soon become an important driver in the global land rush,” said Dr. Lorenzo Cotula, a senior researcher at IIED and co-author of the paper.

Besides the social and economic impacts that biomass demand can generate, its carbon neutrality has also been questioned by experts.

For a PDF of the briefing paper, go here.

Article by Antonio Pasolini, a Brazilian writer and video art curator based in London, UK. He holds a BA in journalism and an MA in film and television.