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Enabling sustainable bioenergy transitions in Sub-Saharan Africa: strategic issues for achieving climate-compatible developments

This chapter explores four key pathways to moving away from traditional biomass fuels in Sub-Saharan Africa. From land-use to context-specific market adaptation, these routes are part of a broader critical transition towards more sustainable bioenergy options.

Francis X. Johnson, Olle Olsson, Caroline Ochieng / Published on 9 October 2020

Johnson F.X. et al. (2020) Enabling sustainable bioenergy transitions in Sub-Saharan Africa: strategic issues for achieving climate-compatible developments. In: Gasparatos A. et al. (eds) Sustainability Challenges in Sub-Saharan Africa I. Science for Sustainable Societies. Springer, Singapore.

Catalysing a transition away from traditional biomass fuels and towards modern and sustainable bioenergy is critical in sub-Saharan Africa (SSA). The high current dependence on traditional biomass fuels in the form of fuelwood and charcoal is associated with significant negative sustainability outcomes. The high land use intensity of traditional biomass and subsistence farming leaves rural communities vulnerable to climate change, deepens poverty and provides only poor energy services at high environmental cost.

The transition towards modern bioenergy options is often indirect but can also be direct when modern fuels and management systems are introduced through alternative development pathways. This chapter discusses four critical aspects that can facilitate sustainable bioenergy transitions in SSA, contributing to climate-compatible development.

First, the linkages between sustainable development goals (SDGs) and modern bioenergy transitions need to be strengthened and should extend beyond the household sector to include cross-sectoral approaches.

Second, appropriate markets and modes of production and use for modern bioenergy must be chosen by emphasising context-specific issues in SSA countries, rather than relying uncritically on lessons from other regions that have quite different socio-economic and biophysical characteristics.

Third, land needs to be used much more productively and efficiently for food, energy and fibre by adopting integrated landscape approaches, regional engagement and local agro-business innovation.

Fourth, linkages between climate change mitigation and adaptation should be strengthened and exploited to address both the challenges and the opportunities that a changing climate poses for bioenergy transitions in SSA and more sustainable bioenergy options and bioeconomy pathways.

SEI authors

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