Modern bioenergy sources are often viewed as important components of a low-carbon, energy-secure future. By reducing the dependence on imported fuel and providing new employment opportunities, bioenergy production has the potential to stimulate local economies in developing countries. Yet, given the diversity of biomass resources, options, markets and scales, a better understanding of how well different bioenergy project types can provide sustainable development is needed.

This analysis evaluates how the potential for sustainable development benefits differs across five bioenergy project types, in order to help identify which project types are best positioned to provide such benefits. It systematically examines the benefits claimed in project design documents for 77 Clean Development Mechanism (CDM) bioenergy projects in India, Brazil and sub-Saharan Africa.

The claimed sustainable development benefits differ as widely among bioenergy project types as among all other CDM project types. Among CDM bioenergy projects, those that rely on agricultural farm residues claim to offer the greatest number of benefits, while those that rely on industrial forest residues the fewest. Improved sustainability assessment of biomass energy project types, benefitting from a requirement for ongoing monitoring of sustainable development benefits and on-the-ground post-implementation evaluations, are needed to guide priority-setting for international mitigation finance and CDM reform efforts.

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Note: An earlier version of this article was published as SEI Working Paper No. 2011-04 , with an accompanying policy brief .