10 Scenarios for the MENA region in the year 2050

10 Scenarios for the MENA region in the year 2050

Bracing for MENA’s Future: 10 Scenarios for the Year 2050

10 Scenarios for the MENA region in the year 2050 as elaborated and written by @Eubulletin | Thursday, May 9th, 2019

Scenarios are imagined futures that can demonstrate how current actions may lead to dramatically different outcomes, but also serve as useful tools to help guide strategy and shape the future. This analysis lays out long term scenarios (2050) for the Middle East and North Africa (MENA). These conclusions point towards greater conflict and contentious state-society dynamics, regional fragmentation and shifting centres of gravity, the region’s embeddedness in global rivalries and disruptive socio-economic and environmental international trends.

Unstoppable Climate Change

By 2050 climate change will be a decisive global reality, but its impact will differ from one region to the other. The countries of the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) will be among the most affected: the effects will be felt across the region in the form of extreme weather phenomena, heat waves and droughts, desertification, severe water shortages and a rise in sea level. One of the most vulnerable areas will be the Nile Delta, where a sea-level rise of about 50 cm could force 4 million Egyptians to resettle to other areas. The region’s governments and societies will have to deal with scarcity of natural resources, including food, price volatility and the risks associated with new pandemics.

Post-Oil World

By 2050, a post-oil world order will be in place due to profound changes in the global energy market. Such a new order will not be triggered by a lack of supply: on the contrary, fossil fuel production may even increase for a time, thanks to the exploitation of new reserves, innovative investments in oil and tar sands, the popularization of LNG and fracking development projects beyond the United States. Prices may remain relatively low for some time despite the high demand from emerging economies. But in the longer term, the main driver of decarbonisation will be the gigantic steps forward in technological innovation for renewable energy production and storage capacities, which will be more popular due to global awareness of the climate change.

An Urbanized Region

The MENA region is characterized by high urbanization. Some 60 percent of the population was already urban by 2018 and this trend will not be reversed by 2050. While we are already familiar with “Mega Cities” such as Cairo and Istanbul, new ones will surpass the 10 million people benchmark. Baghdad and Khartoum, each with 15 million inhabitants, will be two of the fastest-growing cities in the region. The capacities of urban spaces to accommodate this new reality will depend on the pace of growth but even more on the resources deployed by local and national authorities to upgrade basic infrastructures such as public transport, sanitation and housing.

Digitalization and Automation

Technologization will be a global megatrend by 2050. Automation and Artificial Intelligence will radically transform job markets in most countries. The MENA region will be particularly affected by those trends due to the already high (and seemingly persistent) unemployment and underemployment rates, particularly among young people. While the Gulf region and Israel may adapt more easily to these changes, other countries, with large working populations, strained job markets and insufficient governance could face major social problems. Infrastructural investment, business culture, education and regulation will also determine the ability to adapt to these megatrends.

Religiosity, Individualization and Citizenship

Societal trends in the MENA in 2050 will result from the complex interplay between endogenous and exogenous variables. Fragmentation and centrifugal dynamics are likely to shape both the religious and the secular camps as well as societies as a whole. Individualization processes, among which the fact that religious or non-religious choices will be the result of each person’s preferences, and the contestation of intermediate authorities (such as religious bodies) will further fragment each camp. In any case, attitudes towards religion will continue to be a major driver of societal and political dynamics and remain a highly contentious issue.

Strong or Fierce States

Attempts to erode or complement the role of states in the region will continue. This is likely to happen by efforts to curtail their size and prerogatives. Next to this, challenges to the authority of states will prompt analysts and pundits to speculate on the weakening or outright collapse of the state system and the redrawing of the regional order. Yet, MENA states could prove more resilient than some expected. By 2050, controlling the state will remain the main and often only guarantee for elite survival. State agents (state elites, the public sector, security apparatuses) and the dynamics revolving around them (clientelism, state capitalism) will remain predominant in the region compared with other parts of the world.

Managing the Effects of Today’s Conflicts

It is impossible to determine which of the conflicts current today will be solved by 2050 and which will still be in place – let alone to predict new ones that may emerge. Nevertheless, we can take it for granted that the effects of today’s conflicts will continue to be felt in the MENA countries in 2050. Even in those cases where effective solutions have been put forward, the post-conflict trauma will mark one or more generations. In addition, new drivers of conflict are very likely to come to the forth, but all these phenomena can turn into either sources for risks or opportunities depending on how they are managed by regional and international actors.

China: Primus Inter Pares

By 2050, China is likely to be the world’s largest economy. Its annual growth rate will have remained considerably steady, keeping in check internal tensions associated with inequality and governance deficits. After almost four decades since its inception, the Belt and Road Initiative has the potential to drastically transform the socio-economic landscape of the Asian continent and of the MENA region. On the basis of the positive returns of China’s initial investments in the 2020s, the MENA authorities’ willingness to engage with China will further increase.

Game-Changing Africa

By 2050, the African continent could be home to 2.5 billion people. This is twice as many as in 2019. Nigeria’s population will have reached 400 million and may rank 14th among the world’s largest economies. The number of African workers will have already surpassed that of China. African mobility will be a major issue, both in terms of rural exodus and international migration. Africa’s weight in global affairs will be one of the game-changers of the following decades. The MENA region will naturally look southwards, both in terms of opportunities and risks. Not only will the MENA care more about African affairs, African leaders will also have a say in the evolution of the Middle East and the Maghreb.

Europe and the MENA Region: A Family Issue

Geographic proximity will remain a key factor in the relations between Europe and the MENA region. What is likely to change is the intensity of the societal bonds between these two spaces and what governments and the people make of it. By 2050, the proportion of Europeans with some sort of MENA background will be much higher than it is today. Such people will no longer be perceived as second- or third generation migrants but as Euro-Arabs, Euro-Turks, Euro-Kurds and Euro-Amazighs. This diversity will not only be present at the level of the general population but also among the two generations of new political and economic elites. The intensity of the connections between the EU and the region could further grow if some countries of the MENA region become members or reinforce their association with the EU.

Grim short-term Forecast for the Coronavirus-era Economy

Grim short-term Forecast for the Coronavirus-era Economy

‘The immediate issue for all businesses, in whichever industry they’re in, is survival’ – Shehab Gargash by Bernd Debusmann Jr who on 30 May 2020 reports that Gargash Group managing director and CEO Shehab Gargash has a grim short-term forecast for the coronavirus-era economy. But out of the ashes, opportunity will arise.
10 Scenarios for the MENA region in the year 2050 elaborated by @Eubulletin amongst many others predicted similar outcome, even though the world was not going through the same exceptional circumstances.

Grim short-term Forecast for the Coronavirus-era Economy
Gargash believes many companies in the UAE are preoccupied with survival, rather than in longer-term outcomes

Like most globetrotting travellers and businessmen, Shehab Gargash’s office has souvenirs of his trips. But these souvenirs aren’t postcards, fridge magnets or cheap trinkets. Gargash collects boarding passes – hundreds of which are kept in a massive glass display case in his office, atop of which sits a silver and red aircraft wing.

“Oh! I have slipped the surly bonds of earth,” reads a sonnet on the case, written by American poet and pilot John Gillespie Magee Jr, killed flying a Spitfire over England during the Second World War. “And danced the skies on laughter-silvered wings.”

This, I think to myself when I see it, is a man who really loves his travel. His Instagram account proves it.

From India and China to Barcelona, Monaco and the Maldives, Gargash gets around – and that’s just in the last year alone.

But like the rest of us, Covid-19 has put a damper on Gargash’s travel plans.

“When will I travel again? That’s a good question,” he tells me, chuckling through the grainy screen of our video teleconference meeting.

“If I’m going on holiday, I want to enjoy it.  So I’m not itching to get back on a plane. I don’t think we’ll be there anytime soon.”

In the current climate, an Instagram-worthy trip is the least of Gargash’s concerns. At the moment, he’s preoccupied with facing the impact of the coronavirus pandemic, both on Gargash Group – of which he is managing director and CEO – and on the wider economies of the UAE and GCC.

Some estimates – such as that of the International Monetary Fund (IMF) – forecast that the GCC economies will collectively record negative real GDP growth in 2020, with the UAE slipping to -3.5 percent from 1.3 percent growth last year.

When it comes to the crisis, Gargash’s warm smile and friendly banter come to a stop. This isn’t a situation he minces words about.

“The immediate issue for all businesses, in whichever industry they’re in, is survival,” he tells me. “I think we are facing worldwide, industry-wide, existential issues that a lot of us have never even dreamed of. It’s all-encompassing and covers all sorts of areas of the economy.”

Hard times ahead

When it comes to the pandemic-related issues that the UAE’s economy faces, few are in a better position to comment than Gargash. A scion of one of the country’s most prominent Emirati families, Gargash leads the Gargash Group, which has diverse interests including automotive, real estate, hospitality and financial services. He’s also the founding chairman of Daman Investments – not to mention a long-time banking industry and prolific socio-economic commentator.

Gargash Enterprises is the authorised distributor for Mercedes-Benz in Dubai, Sharjah and the Northern Emirates

In the short-term, he says with startling matter-of-factness, the forecast is grim. He predicts that many businesses will not last.

“People aren’t looking at their strategies, or their plans. They’re looking at the daily details of expenses, revenue, cash in the bag. The immediate oxygen for the business to live through this,” he says. “Many businesses will not appreciate the impact of what they thought were very small elements, like levels of leverage and borrowing that seemed manageable a few weeks ago. These will deal a fatal blow to a lot of businesses.”

Perhaps more alarmingly, Gargash believes that most businesses are “nowhere near” a stage in which they can even think of what the future holds. What businesses will look like, and how they can adapt to new realities, are still unknowns.

“We haven’t even considered that future yet. A lot of businesses, through no fault of their own in many cases, will not survive simply because they have underappreciated the need to have that safety cushion,” he adds.

‘Soul searching’

According to Gargash, the businesses that do survive the immediate impact of the pandemic over the coming weeks and months will soon have to start thinking of their next moves.

“You can’t afford to be firefighting too long. Over the weeks and months, [companies will] regain their balance. Subsequent to that, strategy kicks back in,” he explains. “Where am I going as a business? What are my priorities? What are new opportunities, and what’s a dying, sunset industry?

“It’s time we ask ourselves these questions as businesses, as they’ll define how we act, post the shock-therapy. Once we do that, our priorities are better defined, and actions put together accordingly,” Gargash adds. “That’s the kind of soul searching that will occupy our minds this year, and possibly into next year.”

The company has diverse operations in financial investment and real estate

Gargash Group is far larger than most businesses that operate in the country. For the average resident, the company is most readily associated with the automotive sector, being the authorised distributor for Mercedes-Benz in Dubai, Sharjah and the Northern Emirates. It is, however, much more than that, offering a wide range of financial, investment and real estate services in various sectors.

But the company’s size and status did not spare it from the impact of the coronavirus. “We went through shock and panic, and saw revenues tumble to extremely low levels, and like everyone had to grapple with a 24-hour lockdown,” Gargash recalls. “Those were the issues that we dealt with as a group in the early days of the pandemic. Nobody knew how to deal with Covid-19.”

And although Gargash says it is “far too early” for decisions to be made on the company’s future, it has already begun a soul-searching process he advises for companies across the wider economy.

“That’s where we are at right now. Let’s say I have 10 lines of business. Which ones are still valid propositions? The ones that aren’t, do I adjust them? Do I integrate them into something else? Or do I just cut the rope and let them sink?,” he says. “Those kinds of questions are still being tackled.”

While it may be too early to determine what the group’s focus will be going forward and what it may need to be cut loose, Gargash says he isn’t particularly worried. The group’s core businesses – automotive, real estate, and financial services – will form a key part of the post-Covid economy in some form.

In fact, he adds, the shock of the pandemic may end up being a blessing in disguise that forced the company to become “more daring in its implementation.”

Businesses that will survive the impact of the pandemic over the coming months will soon have to start thinking of their next moves, Gargash believes

“We’ll try new ideas, new thoughts, concepts and industries that in the past I dismissed,” he explains. “Let’s imagine, for a second, potato farming. Potato farming has been proven to be a strategic source of nourishment. That’s a silly example, but understand, I’m obliged to become a more entrepreneurial business, and regardless of how ‘classic’ I’ve been in the past. I must investigate new avenues. I have the same eagerness to survive as a brand new start-up.”

A new GCC?

Gargash is undoubtedly an optimist. Even while speaking about the challenges of the economy, he peppers his comments with reminders that, sooner or later, things will return to something resembling normality. As he puts it, the masks will fall off, and the glove won’t be a necessity – even if the “trauma” of the event stays with us.

Even widespread job losses, he says, will eventually lead to something better. “In the longer term, jobs will be replaced, rather than lost. We still [in the UAE] have an economy serving 10 million people, and a broader GCC economy with 50 million or so. Jobs will be created, possibly in new industries and in new roles.”

These new roles – which Gargash admits he isn’t sure what will be, exactly – will require many employees, from blue-collar workers to managers, re-skill themselves, or learn entire new professions. Although challenging, he is confident the region’s youth in particular will manage.

“This [trend] will disproportionally [benefit] young people,” he says. “They’re more adept and more able to align themselves with industry trends.”

These ‘new roles’ don’t just apply to employees. The pandemic, he believes, may ultimately change the UAE’s economy as a whole by encouraging more home-grown entrepreneurs to step up with fresh new ideas.

“Most of the businesses that are set up in the UAE are in the ‘last-mile’ economy: the delivery of a product or service that has evolved somewhere else, or was manufactured somewhere else. Your control over what your supplier gives you is fairly limited. I can’t invent a better wheel, so to say. I’m just distributing the wheel that was manufactured somewhere else.”

Young people could align themselves with industry trends, says Gargash

What we’ll see instead, Gargash hopes, is an opportunity for motivated entrepreneurs to try and forecast where the future is headed and where they can step in with an idea.

“In a post Covid-reality, we’ll be asking what is going to drive businesses, and what those businesses will look like,” he says. “There needs to be a proper reading of what demands will need to be fulfilled. Businesses will need to alter their offerings to suit the new realities.”

He adds, “It’s by no means an easy task. There’s still a lot of projection and reading into the future that is required.”

Once that’s done, he says, the UAE’s economy will be able to take off – as will he, on his next trip abroad. For Gargash, that day will be welcome news.

“I have a fear of losing my frequent flyer miles,” he laughs. “But that’s another story.”

Advice for investors

When asked what advice he’s given to would-be UAE investors in the pandemic, Gargash responds without hesitation: “hold on to it and watch what happens.”

“Do not rush into investments today. I do not think there will be an imminent, overnight bounce back of growth and activity,” he says. “It’s going to come back, but it will be more deliberate.

“It’ll take more time. If I was an investor with AED1m, I’d hold back and watch and observe. I’d make a convinced decision before I take that plunge and go into one asset class.”

Certainty of hitting new temperature highs

Certainty of hitting new temperature highs

“We have 93% certainty within the next five years of hitting new temperature highs”

Many economists agree that the global adoption of carbon taxes is required to enforce industry change says WSP Middle East’s Sophia Kee

“We must eliminate all CO2 emissions from the built environment by 2040 to meet the 1.5-degrees Celsius climate targets. This commitment is a significant challenge; it helps to look at the emissions sources broken down within this; 27% are due to operations, 10% for materials and construction and 10% for ‘other’ in the construction industry,” said Sophia Kee, WSP Middle East’s recently appointed Head of Future Ready – Property & Buildings. Kee made the remarks exclusively to Middle East Construction News (MECN) in response to a question about why greenhouse gas (GHGs) emissions continue to rise despite concerted global efforts to cap them.

She elaborates, “If we look at operations first, as this segment is responsible for the majority of CO2 emissions within the built environment, these emissions are typically a direct consequence of energy consumed to cool, ventilate, power and light our spaces. These building service processes can be optimised very early in the design process to capitalise on passive design strategies, in collaboration with architecture and building services to undertake studies such as shoebox modelling of multiple option iterations to establish an optimised green building that has low solar gains, is naturally ventilated, daylit, and with services optimally designed.”

“This optimised passive and active design workflow is challenging to implement whilst balancing aesthetic requirements, project deadlines and budgets, and challenging environmental conditions such as high ambient temperatures, humidity, dust, solar gains with low diurnal temperature fluctuations resulting in reliance on energy for building operations in the Middle East,” she points out.

Kee also notes that despite global efforts to transition towards low-carbon energy, there are a lack of government regulations to restrict emissions. She adds, “Many economists agree that the global adoption of carbon taxes is required to enforce industry change.”


In May 2022, a report by the WMO said that there’s a 50:50 chance of global temperature temporarily reaching the 1.5-degrees Celsius threshold in the next five years. This is despite the fact that 196 parties adopted the Paris Agreement on 12 December 2015, following which it entered into force on 4 November 2016. The ongoing goal of the legally binding international treaty on climate change is to limit global warming to well below 2-degrees Celsius, preferably to 1.5-degrees Celsius, compared to pre-industrial levels.

Pressed for her reaction to the WMO report, Kee remarks, “The World Meteorological Organisation’s latest update highlights the urgency of required catalysts of change within the built environment; this data doesn’t lie, we have 93% certainty within the next five years of hitting new temperature highs and we are getting closer to reaching the climate tipping point, which the world agreed to avoid as part of the Paris Agreement in 2015.”

“This data illustrates two major factors within the built environment that we need to prepare for and consider holistically in order to mitigate climate change resulting from GHG emissions. Firstly, we need to increase our capabilities within the industry and raise awareness with our clients to drive the assessment of carbon footprint within the decision-making process at multiple gateways of a project. This affects the project timeline including additional iterations during conceptual studies and massing, planning, façade and building system development, material procurement, and selecting construction methods. It is essential that this is an integrated part of the design process and includes all key stakeholders from start to finish to fully understand the climatic impacts of our decisions.”

She urges, “Secondly, we rapidly need to begin shifting from ‘business as usual’ and creating a sense of urgency within the industry to plan and design developments that consider the projected environmental, social, technological and mobility scenarios and trends in the future. We are gradually shifting towards providing buildings and developments that are flexible in space usage change, de-constructable, and accommodate modular technology upgrades. This is no simple feat in the region. However, we foresee this beginning to evolve by influencing the client-led decision-making process to account for energy, environmental, and social impacts.”

Kee believes that the WMO data shines a light on two very pressing future factors, and says the silver lining to this tale of two stories is that it’s not too late.

She concludes, “In the Middle East, we’re seeing pockets of meaningful climate action taking place as ambitious climate pledges and sustainability-centric projects are unveiled, particularly in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. At WSP Middle East, we’re witnessing a renewed sense of possibility for ingraining greener principles and frameworks into the fabric of these Future Ready developments. For instance, we’re proud to be helping The Red Sea Development Company realise its vision for regenerative tourism on many fronts. Similarly, NEOM’s unprecedented scope for embedding sustainability virtues is world leading, as is the King Salman Park Foundation’s mandate for creating the world’s largest green urban park in the heart of Riyadh.”

ME Construction News

Declines in global ecological security under climate change

Declines in global ecological security under climate change

Posted by The Gorkhali in climate change on is a good study on the Declines in global ecological security under climate change.  The word “climate” makes most of us look up to the sky – however, the IPCC’s new special report on climate change and land should make us all look under our feet.  But before we do that, let us hear The Gorkhali.

Ecological security is the state when an ecosystem maintains its stability under external stress. Due to climate change and the increase in human activities since the 20th century, the rapid decline in global ecological security has threatened sustainable human development. The evaluation and projection of global ecological security is important for forming adaptation strategies to maintain sustainable development in sensitive areas. However, the current assessments of ecological security mainly focus on regional scales, and the interactions among different factors have not been considered, resulting in future projections having substantial uncertainty. Here, a new index of ecological security was developed by including biological, oxygen, carbon, thermal and hydrological cycles and the impacts to ecosystem stability from climate change and human activities at a global scale. A global distribution map of ecological security has been established that covers the past 60 years and includes projections for the future 100 years. A severe decline in ecological security has occurred in drylands that has expanded into surrounding regions over the past 60 years. The response of ecological security to global warming and human activities is projected to be stronger. By ~2100, under a high greenhouse gas emissions scenario, the amount of globally insecure land would cover more than 57% of the land in the world.


Ecological security refers to a state in which natural and semi-natural ecosystems can maintain stability, associated with the ecological environment provides ecological guarantees for the sustainable development of the whole eco-economic system (Costanza and Mageau, 1999; Fu, 2010; Ma et al., 2004; Rapport, 1989; IUCN, 2012; Jenkins et al., 2013; Newbold et al., 2015). However, ecological security has been severely threatened under on-going global warming and enhanced human activities (Walther et al., 2002; Palmer et al., 2004; Piao et al., 2010; Huang et al., 2012, 2015, 2016; Feng et al., 2016; Fu et al., 2017; Zhao et al., 2018). There are some studies indicating that ecological destruction has caused desertification, food shortages (Glover et al., 2010) and water insecurity (Vörösmarty et al., 2010; Humphrey et al., 2017), which will threaten human survival and development in the 21st century. Ecological security is closely associated with biological, oxygen, carbon, hydrological and thermal cycles under climate change and human activities. This is because, changes in vegetation structure and function linked to oxygen cycle, controls the exchange of carbon, water and energy between the land and the atmosphere (Piao et al., 2020). However, the consequences of these transformations for ecological security are poorly understood. Understanding the change in these indicators is important to determining terrestrial ecological security through the processes of respiration, photosynthesis and burning. Hence, knowledge of how climate change and human activities will affect changes in ecological security in the future is essential for protection and for adaptation strategies.

Though the concept of ecological security has been proposed as early as the 1970s (Sohn, 1973), a unified and generally accepted definition has not been formed because ecological security is a complex issue that involves many aspects (Daly, 2005; Hodson & Marvin, 2009; Wang et al., 2015; Feng et al., 2018). There are two limitations to the current assessment of ecological security. Although some indicators have been used to evaluate regional ecological security, those assessments have only considered individual regional issues, such as water security (Shinoda and Yamaguchi, 2003; Sorooshian et al., 2005; Seneviratne et al., 2010; Wang et al., 2015) and urban ecological security (Hodson & Marvin, 2009). Second, as ecological security has various definitions (Allenby 2000; Liu & Chang, 2015; Hu et al., 2019), there has been no uniform and well-recognized indicator system. Therefore, it is important to understand how the variability on climate change and human activities constrains biological, oxygen, carbon, hydrological and thermal cycles to determine the ecological security.

In fact, ecological security involves various cycles in an ecosystem. The oxygen, carbon, hydrological and thermal cycles are interconnected throughout all regions on Earth, and they are also coupled to all biological cycles (Schlesinger et al., 1990; Ciais, 1999; Jacobson et al., 2000; Dickinson, 2005; Fu & Li, 2016; Huang et al., 2017a,b, 2018; Yang et al., 2019). The process of photosynthesis not only produces vital O2 and is important for the food chain but also absorbs solar irradiation and carbon balance. Carbon accumulates in soils in large quantities, major because the high water levels that result in low biological activity and slow soil organic carbon decomposition. Carbon accumulation plays an important driving role in the carbon cycle through atmosphere, green vegetation and surface soils. Thus, these factors are the most important ecological indicator for changes in biological, oxygen, carbon, hydrological and thermal cycles. The ecological security means the survival of humans and other animals should be balanced with plant vegetation within the above five cycles.

The ecological security is identified by the combination of four essential factors, including oxygen consumption (Oc), oxygen production (Op), temperature warming magnification (Tm) and the aridity index (AI).

  • Oxygen consumption

O2 is consumed by a wide range of processes, some of which are negligible or are difficult to quantify, including the weathering of organic matter and sulfide minerals, volcanic gas oxidation, and so on. Here, five main O2 consumption processes, including (1) fossil fuel combustion, (2) human respiration, (3) livestock respiration, (4) fires and (5) heterotrophic and soil respiration, are considered (Petsch, 2013). The detailed methods and datasets of the processes (1)-(4) could be found in Huang et al. (2018) and Liu et al., (2020). Here, the heterotrophic and soil respiration (Rh + Rd) is the process that consumes oxygen when soil organisms respire, where Rh is the respiration by heterotrophs and Rd is the respiration by decomposers (microbes), which is measured by the difference between net primary productivity (NPP) and net ecosystem productivity (NEP). The simulated Rh + Rd dataset (see Table 1) is obtained from the simulation of the Fifth Coupled Model Intercomparison Project (CMIP5) (Taylor et al., 2012). The observed Rh + Rd data are obtained from the Global Fire Emissions Database (GFED, Van et al., 2017).

  • Oxygen production

Oxygen is produced during photosynthesis, during which plants and other organisms absorb carbon dioxide (CO2) from the atmosphere and release oxygen (O2). Photosynthesis can be expressed by the following chemical equation:

6H2O + 6CO2 ———->C6H12O6 + 6O2 (1)

Gross primary production (GPP) is the total amount of CO2 fixed by a plant during photosynthesis. NPP is the net amount of gross primary productivity remaining after including the cost of plant respiration. According to Eq. (1), we can use the following equation to calculate the net amount of O2 produced during the process of photosynthesis if the known amount of carbon is fixed through photosynthesis (NPP).

O2 = NPP * 2.667

Due to the molar mass of O2 is 32 g per mole and the C is 12 g per mole, thus the ratio is 2.667. The simulated NPP dataset from 1948 to 2100 is obtained from the CMIP5 simulation (Taylor et al., 2012) and the observed NPP data based on MODIS from 2000 to 2015 were acquired from the Global Fire Emissions Database (Van et al., 2017). The simulated NPP and observed NPP data are re-gridded to a 1.0°×1.0° resolution for comparison. The detailed methods and datasets of oxygen production could be found in Huang et al. (2018) and Liu et al. (2020)

  • Temperature warming magnification

The temperature warming magnification is represented by Tm(i,n), which is defined as the ratio of the grid warming rate to the global warming rate and as follows:

Tm (i, n) = Ttrend (i, n) / TGtrend (n) (3)

where Ttrend (i, n) is defined as the linear trend of the surface temperature from 1901 to year n at grid point i, and TGtrend (n) is defined as the linear trend of the global average surface temperature from 1901 to year n for year n. The CRUTEMP4 dataset, which is developed by the Met Office Hadley Centre and the Climatic Research Unit at the University of East Anglia (Morice et al., 2012), combines both surface air (over land) and sea surface (over ocean) temperature data. To fill the missing values in the CRUTEMP4, Dai and Zhao (2017) have supplemented the CRUTEMP4 with CRU TS2.3 temperature data. Therefore, we use this modified version of the CRUTEMP4 to calculate observed TGtrend and Ttrend. For simulations, the surface air temperature data used to calculate TGtrend and Ttrend are obtained from 20 CMIP5 climate models (Taylor et al., 2012). We averaged the Tm data of 20 models to calculate the ecological security index (ESI) for each model (see Table 1).

  • Aridity index

The AI (i,n) represents the aridity index at grid i for year n, which is defined as the ratio of precipitation to potential evapotranspiration (PET) and denoted as

AI (i, n) = P(i, n) / PET (i, n) (4)

Declines in global ecological security under climate change

For observation, the precipitation data is from the NOAA’s PRECipitation REConstruction over Land (PREC/L) dataset (Chen et al., 2002) developed by the Climatic Prediction Center (CPC), which covers for 1948 to the present on a 0.5° grid. And the PET data is from CRU TS 3.25 dataset (Harris et al., 2014), which covers the period 1901–2016 and all land areas at 0.5° resolution. In order to be consistent with the AI in the models, we keep the climatology of observed precipitation and PET data consistent with the observed precipitation and PET data provided by Feng and Fu (2013). For simulations, the precipitation and PET simulation datasets used here are provided by Feng and Fu (2013). These data are derived from the monthly mean temperature, precipitation, solar radiation, specific humidity and wind speed products obtained from the CMIP5 climate models (Taylor et al., 2012). Feng and Fu (2013) provided AI data from 20 models, which are not consistent with the models that can provide NPP and Rh + Rd. Therefore, we averaged the AI data of 20 models to calculate the ESI for each model (Table 1)

  • Land datasets

The surface energy flux data for sensible and latent heat, 0–7 cm volumetric soil water, and 0–7 cm soil temperature data were collected from the ERA5 reanalysis from the European Centre for Medium-Range Weather Forecasts (ECMWF) on a 0.25°×0.25° grid for 2000 to 2015. In addition, for verification, we used the CPC Soil Moisture dataset (Fan and Dool, 2014) on a 0.5°×0.5° grid from a model, which covers the period of 1948-present and was provided by the NOAA/OAR/ESRL PSD, Boulder, Colorado, USA, and we also explored the surface energy flux data for sensible and latent heat, and 0–10 cm soil moisture content from the NASA Global Land Data Assimilation System (GLDAS) land model simulation using the Noah Land Surface Model forced by observational data on a 1°×1° grid (GLDAS_NOAH10_M.2.0) for 1948 to 2010.

Results analysis

Declines in global ecological security under climate change

Fig. 3 shows the spatial distribution of ESI values determined by observations obtained between 60°S-60°N from 2000 to 2015. The area coverage of the insecure land represents 53.0% of the global land are (60°S-60°N), and the proportions of the different land surface types (60°S-60°N) of the semi-secure, light-dangerous and severe-dangerous regions are 13.3%, 16.4% and 23.3%, respectively (Fig. 3b). Here, desert covers 15.9% of the global land, representing deserts such as Sahara and Taklimakan (Fig. 3a). The severe-dangerous regions are mainly distributed at the edges of deserts and regions highly affected by climate change and some other places with high human activities, including industrial and densely populated regions (Fig. 3a). The lightdangerous regions include some drylands and mountainous plateau
regions without vegetation and snow cover (Fig. 3a), which are located in Australia, North America, Europe, southern Africa and Central Asia. The semi-secure regions are transition zones between secure and dangerous land, which are mainly distributed in semi-arid and cattle-producing regions (Fig. 3a), where the amount of oxygen generated via photosynthesis cannot compensate for the oxygen consumption. Only 31.2% of the global land area is covered by land that is defined as secure, which is mainly distributed in South America, Siberia, Central
Africa and the Tibetan Plateau; these areas have strong ecological resilience and have not been disturbed by humans. In addition, the cryosphere (polar regions and Greenland), which is not discussed in this study, can also be classified as secure land that stores plenty of freshwater without human disturbances.

Based on the above climatology, it is essential to investigate how ecological security will change in the future. The CMIP5 has generated projections using several emissions scenarios and has provided a crucial reference for the spatial and temporal evolution of ecological security in the future. The model members used are shown in Table 1 and the ensemble mean of these CMIP5 models (CMIP5-EM), which filters the uncertainty from the inter-model variability and better reflects the changes in ESI, is used in this study. To ensure the reliability of future projections, the CMIP5-EM simulations of ESI over 2000–2015 (Fig. 3cd) are compared to observations. The results show that the spatial distribution and the area coverage of insecure land obtained by CMIP5 are consistent with those indicated by observations, indicating that CMIP5 is adequate for projecting future ESI changes. For the CMIP5-EM historical and RCP8.5 simulated ESI values from 2000 to 2015, the area coverage of insecure land represents 51.2% of the global land area, and those of the different land surface types (60°S-60°N) of secure regions, semi-secure regions, light-dangerous regions and severe-dangerous regions are 32.8%, 14.7%, 17.3% and 19.2%, respectively. Desert covers 15.9% of the global land area, which is mainly located Sahara and Taklimakan; this result is similar to that indicated by observations (Fig. 3c-d). The light-dangerous and severe-dangerous regions are mainly distributed in the middle and high latitudes of the Northern Hemisphere, such as in western North America, Southwest Russia and Northeast China. Generally, the CMIP5 models can capture the spatial distribution of the ESI values from 2000 to 2015, indicating that the
CMIP5-EM is adequate for projecting future changes in ESI.

Declines in global ecological security under climate change
Declines in global ecological security under climate change

Fig. 4a present the time series of the global mean ESI during the future periods. For future projections, the ESI increases to ~ 1.8 by ~ 2100 under RCP8.5 scenario and decreases from ~ 1.5 (~2020) to ~ 1.4 by 2100 under RCP4.5. These opposite trends demonstrate that the emission of greenhouse gases is the main factor controlling the variations in ESI and that the restriction of greenhouse gas emissions under RCP4.5 could mitigate this disease. Fig. 4b-f presents the time series of the changes in area of the four subtypes during the historical and future periods. Clearly, the expansion of severe-dangerous regions in the future is significant under the RCP8.5 scenario. In addition, the area coverage of semi-secure and secure regions will decrease after 2005 under the RCP8.5 scenario. However, by reducing oxygen consumption through limiting carbon dioxide emissions under the RCP4.5 scenario, the global expansion of total insecure land will be inhibited. The area coverage of severe-dangerous regions will fist increase and then decrease; simultaneously, the areas of secure regions will first decrease and then increase. Under the RCP4.5 scenario, the areas of the four land surface types at the end of the century will change little compared with those at the beginning of this century. Among them, the areas of severe-dangerous regions and light-dangerous regions will decrease slightly; conversely, the areas of secure regions will increase slightly.

Fig. 5 shows the spatial distribution of the mean ESI in 2085–2100 and the areal changes of insecure land indicated from RCP8.5 scenari by CMIP5-EM. By the end of this century, the area coverage of insecure land will be 57.1% of the global land area, which will mainly be distributed in Africa, India, Europe, West and East Asia, and the different land surface types (60°S-60°N) of secure regions and semi-secure regions will be 27.1% and 13.1%, respectively. Relative to the beginning of this century (Fig. 3), the area of secure, semi-secure and light-dangerous land will decrease 5.6% of the global land area by ~ 2100 under RCP8.5 scenario. The greatest increase in area will be in severe-dangerous regions, which will increase from 23.3% to 28.9% of the global land area by ~ 2100 under RCP8.5 scenario. By comparing the areal changes of insecure land from 2000 to 2015 to those from 2085 to 2100 under RCP8.5 scenario, the increased areas of the semi-secure, light dangerous and severe-dangerous regions are 4.6%, 5.6% and 7.8%, respectively, and the net areal changes of secure land and severe-dangerous regions represent −4.1% and 5.6% of global land, respectively. The increase in severe-dangerous regions (reaching up to 28.9% of the global land area by 2100) is the most significant, which is mainly attributed to the remarkable decrease in secure land and the slight decrease in semi-secure and light-dangerous regions.


Achieving the Sustainable Development Goals requires maintaining a balance between the environment, society and the economy Environmental sustainability has always been an important part of sustainable development and a necessary condition for achieving strong
sustainability (Wu, 2013). In order to achieve environmental sustainability, building a reasonable index can guide policymaker in the right direction. There are many indexes available for assessing environmental sustainability, such as Ecological Footprint (Wackernagel and Rees, 1996), Environmental Sustainability Index, and Environmental
Performance Index
, which are only published on the national scale. Of course, ecological security is also an important indicator. Ecological security has emerged as a critical policy focus across the world. Governments are increasingly being asked to explain their performance on a range of environment protection and natural resource management challenges with reference to quantitative metrics. Ecological security index can make us easier to spot problems, track trends, identify best practices, and optimize the gains from constructions of ecological civilization.

As the oxygen is the most important survival factor of all animals on the earth, its content directly determines the biomass of the earth. Several historical mass extinctions have been associated with reduced oxygen concentration during historical periods. In the past 100 years,
under the frequent intervention of human activities, many resources on the earth have been in an over-used state, including freshwater resources, and we have crossed the threshold of one-third of the 9 planetary boundaries proposed by Rockström et al. (2009). Also, the overexploitation and use of fossil fuels has also led to a record high rate of human oxygen consumption and carbon dioxide emissions, and its greenhouse effect has led to the overall warming of the earth. During the Anthropocene, due to the expansion of urban area and the acceleration of desertification, the oxygen produced by the earth’s vegetation also gradually decreased. Increased oxygen consumption and decreased oxygen production have put the planet which we live in on an unsustainable state. In this article, we combined the oxygen consumption, the oxygen production, the global warming and the extent of land aridity to construct an ESI and make future estimates.

Obviously, geoscientists can apply the newly proposed ESI to investigate and reanalyze the vitality of land with different ecological statuses, especially the formation and expansion of insecure land. The systematic classification of land using ESI can not only alert us to climate crises due to natural insecure land but can also warn us about the hidden threat from anthropogenic insecure land, which has mostly been ignored worldwide due to greed-driven human activities. Under global change, extreme weathers and human disturbances, such as rapid population growth and accelerate urbanization, have an increasing impact on the ecosystem stability. The above results highlight that when the external forcing are beyond the environmental capacity, the secure land would become unsustainable and the risk of ecological security would occur. Based on the population projections under SSP5 (RCP8.5), the global population will increase to 12.7 billion by 2100, indicating that more people will be threatened by severe ecological security. Thus, detecting the starting point of insecure land at an earlier stage and preventing its invasion is of particular importance and a high priority
because it can further avoid insecure land from connecting altogether and decelerate the expected losses of biological species richness (Pounds et al., 2006). Thus, more urgent actions must be taken to promote oxygen production and preserve water resources, including
planting more trees, slowing down the expansion of deserts and drylands to stop dust from spreading (Shugart et al., 2003) and cultivating new green land among large regions of insecure land. In addition, we must avoid extra activities that consume more oxygen and water, especially by limiting fossil fuel combustion, forbidding ocean and lake trash, properly disposing of municipal and industrial waste and evenly distributing industrial zones. If we continue to take land resources for granted, more land will definitely develop into insecure land and even desert; this final step is irreversible and can cause humans to permanently lose their habitat (Prentice et al., 2007). Therefore, it is unwise and lacking in foresight to trade actual land resources for rapid economic development. We must establish new policies to stop the environment from worsening any further using global cooperation without hesitation.

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Bioenergy technologies have significant potential to scale up by 2050

Bioenergy technologies have significant potential to scale up by 2050

IRENA stating in a report for the G20 Energy Sustainability Working Group recently published that Bioenergy technologies have significant potential to scale up by 2050, It is about the Energy mix of the future. It should be read if possible in conjunction with Looking at the big debate between renewables and nuclear energy.

September 28, 2020 | Mega Trends & Analysis

Bioenergy makes up a large share of renewable energy use today and plays a key role as a source of energy and as a fuel in the end-use sectors (industry, transport and buildings), as well as in the power sector. International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA) recently released its report titled “Recycle: Bioenergy”, describing how biomass has a central role in delivering many aspects of the energy transformation and help build a climate-friendly circular carbon economy. It discusses the current and potential application of bioenergy and renewable carbon, and presents the strong economic case supporting them, including their positive externalities and socio-economic benefits. REGlobal presents a brief extract from the report as follows…

Current status

Bioenergy today accounts for 70% of the global renewable energy supply and 10% of the total primary energy supply. In terms of end uses, the largest share of total bioenergy use (modern and traditional) is in the buildings sector, which includes cooking and space heating (26%). The second largest share is in the industry sector (at 7%), followed by the transport sector (3%), mostly in the form of liquid biofuels from crops such as sugar cane and corn, and the power sector (2%).

Industry sector: The industry sector uses energy for a wide range of purposes, such as for processing and assembly, steam generation, cogeneration, process heating and cooling, lighting, heating, and air conditioning. However, most of the energy consumed in industry is in the form of heat, especially in the most energy-intensive industrial sectors – iron and steel, chemical and petrochemical, nonmetallic minerals, pulp and paper, and the food industry. Current direct renewable energy use in industry is predominantly in the form of biofuels and energy from waste. Biomass could play an expanded role for the decarbonisation of the industry sector, as it offers an established renewable energy option to provide low-, medium- and high-temperature heat, as well as a feedstock that can replace fossil fuels. At a regional level, the largest share of biomass in industry’s final energy consumption in 2017 was in Latin America and the Caribbean at 32%, followed by Asia and Sub Saharan Africa, both at 29%.  

Biomass is also used for carbon emissions reductions in the industry sector through the production of natural synthetic fibres based on cellulose, and biomaterials to produce bioplastic. Biomass used for bioplastic production mainly comes from corn, sugarcane or cellulose (European Bioplastic, 2020). In 2019, according to the European Bioplastics association, the global production capacity of bioplastics reached 2.11 Mt using 0.79 million hectares of land, representing 0.02% of the global agricultural area of a total of 4.8 billion hectares. Production was concentrated in Asia (45%), followed by Europe (25%), North America (18%) and South America (12%).

Transport sector: Globally, the share of renewable energy in this sector is very small at just 3% in 2017. In road transport, the use of renewables is dominated by liquid biofuels, mostly bioethanol and biodiesel, which offer an alternative fuel for all types of internal combustion engines in both passenger vehicles and trucks. North America had the largest production of liquid biofuels in 2017, with 64 billion litres, followed by Latin America and the Caribbean with 31 billion litres and the European Union with 25 billion litres.

Liquid biofuels could also help decarbonise the shipping and aviation sectors, which currently are entirely fueled by fossil sources. The decarbonisation of these modes of transport is essential, as they make up 20% of total energy demand from transportation and are the fastest growing segments of the sector. Advanced biofuels offer significant emissions reductions compared to petrol and diesel. They can be made from non-food and non-feed biomass, including waste materials (such as vegetable oils or animal fats) and energy-specific crops grown on marginal or degraded land. They thus have a lower impact on food resources and lower probability of causing Land Use Change (LUC) and Indirect Land Use Change (ILUC). However, despite their advantages, advanced biofuels face significant barriers, such as lack of technological development, high production costs, immature supply chains and dependence on government support schemes.

Buildings sector: There are two different ways of using biomass in the buildings sector: space heating and cooking. Buildings can currently be heated using biomass through town-scale district heating systems or building-scale furnaces, both of which use feedstocks such as wood chips and pellets very efficiently. Cooking with biomass is typically one of the traditional uses of biomass in developing countries. Inefficient traditional cookstoves paired with solid fuels and kerosene emit indoor smoke that imperils the health of mainly women and children and causes nearly 4 million premature deaths every year. Unsurprisingly, the largest share of biomass consumption in the buildings sector in 2017 was in Sub Saharan Africa at 91% (entirely in the form of traditional uses). These detrimental cooking practices must be replaced with clean, efficient, modern systems that use improved cookstoves fueled with sustainably produced bioenergy such as wood, biogas or ethanol.

Power sector: Biomass and waste fuels in solid, liquid and gaseous forms are currently used to generate electricity. The feedstocks and technologies range from mature, low-cost options, like the combustion of agricultural and forestry residues, to less mature and/or expensive options, like biomass gasification or municipal solid waste generators with stringent emissions controls (IRENA, 2019c). However, electricity generation from biomass is most often provided through combined heat and power (CHP) systems. Power production from biomass is relatively flexible, so it can help to balance output over time on electricity grids with high shares of variable wind and solar power. At a regional level, in 2017 the European Union and Asia had the largest bioenergy capacity installed, a total of 34 GW each.

An important niche that has yet to be fully explored is the use of biomass residues and waste generated in bio-based industries such as pulp and paper, lumber and timber, and food processing and biofuels. These sectors usually have large amounts of biomass that can be used for energy production. To a large extent, the modern part of those industries already taps into those resources, mostly for electricity and heat generation, in stand-alone applications or co-generation systems.

Technology outlook for bioenergy and bio-based materials

Biomass, due to its versatility, could play significant roles in the industry sector. Biomass can be used as a feedstock to replace fossil fuels, it can be used to produce low-, medium- and high temperature heat, and it can be used as a fuel for localised electricity production. The versatility of biomass and its finite supply, however, also result in competition for its use within and between industry sectors, and other sectors of the economy. In IRENA’s analysis, renewable energy (including renewable electricity and district heating) could contribute 63% of industry’s total final energy consumption by 2050 (89 EJ in absolute terms). Of that total energy, 24% would be sourced from biomass (direct, bioelectricity and biomass in district heating) and the remaining 39% from other renewable sources.

Bioenergy technologies have significant potential to scale up by 2050
Renewable energy contribution to industry final energy consumption in the Transforming Energy Scenario (TES) in 2050
Note: “Other renewables” also includes renewable electricity
Source: Data extracted from: (IRENA, 2020)

Compared to current levels, energy demand in the transport sector is lower under the Transforming Energy Scenario due to efficiency improvements and other measures, such as changes in transport modes and reductions in the need for travel. Fossil fuel consumption (oil, natural gas) is sharply reduced, and there is a major increase in biofuels, which reach 17 EJ in 2050 (over five times 2017 levels) and provide 20% of total transport final energy demand. Electricity use in transport also grows sharply to 37 EJ (of which 2 EJ is bioelectricity, 29 EJ is from other renewable sources and the remaining 5 EJ is from fossil fuels), representing 43% of total transport final energy demand in 2050.

Final energy consumption in the transport sector per energy carrier (2017 and 2030- 2050 TES)
Source: Data extracted from: (IRENA, 2020)

Biofuels are an important alternative to fossil fuels, particularly for long-haul transport (aviation, marine and long-haul road freight), complementing the enhanced role of electrification and other urban measures. Transport will become much more electrified, but not everywhere, not in all sectors and not all at once. While EVs powered by renewable electricity will dominate light vehicle fleets, they can only enter markets with well-developed power grids. Long-haul transport is unlikely to be fully electrified due to the higher energy density it requires. Hence, a mix of oil-based, carbohydrate-based, and lignocellulosic biofuels has to be developed and used. Conventional fuel ethanol production will also have a continuing role where production costs are low. In IRENA’s analysis, overall liquid biofuel production could increase five-fold from 130 billion litres in 2016 to 652 billion litres in 2050.

At a regional level, North America would lead in liquid biofuel production, with 183 billion litres in 2020. However, liquid biofuels have a large potential in Asia, with production increasing from 13 billion litres in 2017 to 211 billion litres in 2050. Biogas can replace fossil gas in natural gas vehicles (NGV) or so-called dual-fuel vehicles. When biogas is upgraded to natural gas quality, it forms biomethane, which can also be used as a vehicle fuel, with similar properties to natural gas. Biomethane would increase from 0.4 bcm in 2017 to 13 bcm in 2050 and could be used for public transport, waste collecting vehicles or heavy freight trucks.

Biofuels production for the transport sector (2015-2017/2018, Planned Energy Scenario and Transforming Energy Scenario in 2030 and 2050) and biomethane production in 2017 and 2030-2050 in the Transforming Energy Scenario
Source: Data extracted from (IRENA, 2020; REN21, 2019)

Modern bioenergy use also is expected to play an increasing role in the decarbonisation of the buildings sector, particularly in areas with high demand for space heating. Buildings can be heated through town-scale district heating systems or building-scale furnaces, both of which use feedstocks like wood chips and pellets very efficiently. It is important, therefore, to replace existing low-efficiency heating systems by high efficiency district heating and cooling (DHC) or buildingscale furnaces fueled by renewable sources as much as possible.

In some cases, fossil fuel-based boilers can be co-fired with solid biomass, such as wood residues, or converted into biomass-only boilers. Biomass can also be used for both electricity and heat production in combined-heat and power (CHP) plants. Using biomass solely for electricity generation is not seen as a good choice because of its low efficiency, at about 30%. However, the overall efficiency of biomass-based CHP plants for industry or district heating can be 70%-90%. As a result, sustainable bioenergy used to provide heat and power can reduce emissions considerably compared to coal, oil and natural gas-generated heat and power.

In IRENA’s Transforming Energy Scenario, by 2050 the final energy consumption of modern biomass (solid, biogas and liquid biomass, bioelectricity and biomass in district heating) grows more than three-fold from the 2017 level in the buildings sector, from 5EJ in 2017 to 16EJ in 2050.

Final energy consumption in the buildings sector by energy carrier (2017-2030 and 2050 under the Transforming Energy Scenario)
Source: Data extracted from: (IRENA, 2020)

Under the Transforming Energy Scenario, the power sector would be transformed. The total amount of electricity generated would more than double by 2050 – to over 55 000 TWh (up from around 24 000 TWh today). The share of electricity in total final energy use would increase from just 20% today to 49% by 2050, and 86% of that electricity would be generated by renewable sources, mostly wind (35% of renewable electricity), solar PV (25%) and some hydro (14%) (Figure 6). Biomass would be the fourth largest renewable power source, generating 7% of electricity. To produce that much power, bioenergy installed capacity would increase six-fold from 108 GW in 2017 to 685 GW in 2050. Asia would lead in bioenergy installed capacity, with 318 GW, followed by the European Union with 107 GW and Latin America and the Caribbean with 94 GW. In addition, biomass can be used for co-firing coal power plants as an intermediate measure to reduce CO2 emissions.

Bioenergy-based electricity can play a particularly important role when: i) its generation costs are lower than other sources (i.e. where biomass feedstock costs are low or where heat can be used in co-generation systems); ii) it helps to balance output over time on electricity grids with high shares of variable wind and solar power; and iii) it is possible to use BECCS.

Total installed costs for bioenergy vary significantly. Projects using bagasse and rice husks tend to have lower installed costs than those using landfill gas, wood waste, other vegetal and agricultural waste and renewable municipal waste (IRENA, 2019c). Overall, however, bioelectricity’s relatively high costs and limited options for lowering them are the main constraining factors to faster deployment.

Electricity generation mix in 2017 and in the Transforming Energy Scenario in 2050
Source: Data extracted from: (IRENA, 2020)
Key barriers to deployment

Despite strong drivers for the uptake of bioenergy, multiple barriers stand in the path of its further development globally. These vary depending on specific markets and renewable energy technologies. They include challenges such as the high cost of many bioenergy options and the lack of access to finance. There also are policy barriers, including the lack of specific regulations, and cultural and awareness barriers. In particular, the deployment of biofuels is highly affected by global trends in oil prices. The recent abrupt decline in oil prices during the COVID-19 crisis, for example, is threatening the development and use of biofuels. If the current low fossil fuel prices are maintained, biofuels will struggle to compete with conventional fuels.

The key barriers to transitioning from traditional to modern uses of biomass are as follows:

  • One major barrier is the higher cost of the improved equipment and fuels which replace what is essentially a “free” resource of wood fuels and other residues (although their collection requires considerable time and effort). This cost barrier is reinforced by the lack of access to capital to finance the purchase of clean equipment and fuels, or to provide for investment and working capital for fuel or equipment production systems. When loans are available, they are generally only for small amounts, which disincentivises potential lenders from accepting the administrative costs to offer the financial products in the first place. Micro-finance can play an important role here.
  • Many proposed cookstove solutions do not have the technical characteristics to meet appropriate efficiency and environmental performance standards and also do not provide culturally acceptable solutions which reflect the needs of consumers, particularly in rural areas. Improved bioenergy cookstoves still have low efficiencies and often fail to meet health guidelines, unless associated with improved fuels (such as briquettes and pellets, or ethanol-based fuels).
  • “Clean” cooking fuels, such as biomass briquettes, and suitable cooking stoves have immature distribution channels, which can lead to supply concerns for clean cooking fuels or to higher prices. Distribution to remote rural areas is especially challenging. Fuel supply chains are often based on unsustainable patterns of biomass production which negatively affect forest cover. Programmes for improved biomass solutions often do not address the needs for sustainable fuel supply and for user solutions
  • The lack of a coherent strategic approach to clean cooking has been a major impediment to progress in many countries. The issues relating to clean cooking cut across many government actors, including ministries responsible for energy, social, financial, environmental and forestry issues, who may not give this issue priority, making coordination difficult.

There are a number of barriers for modern bioenergy in the developed context. Some of these are listed as follows:

  • When low-cost feedstocks are available as by-products from agricultural or forestry processes, bioenergy electricity can be competitive with fossil fuel solutions. In 2018, when about 5.7 GW of new bioenergy electricity projects were commissioned, the global weighted average LCOE of the new power plants was USD 0.062/kWh. This is a decrease of 14% from 2017. However, bioenergy power generation costs are often higher than those of other renewable generation technologies such as wind and solar PV, where costs have fallen dramatically in recent years.
Bioenergy technologies have significant potential to scale up by 2050
Comparison of costs of bioenergy and other options
Source: (IEA Bioenergy, 2020; UK Renewable Energy Association, 2019)
  • Investors often consider the risks associated with bioenergy projects to be higher than for other renewable technologies. This is because of increased risks associated with ensuring a reliable fuel supply and concerns about technology complexity and meeting sustainability criteria. In contrast to wind and solar projects, the risk profile of nearly every project is different, given different feedstock and technology combinations. Financing for large-scale demonstration for new technologies such as advanced biofuels is particularly challenging, especially since bioenergy systems need to be tested at large and therefore costly scales, unlike technologies based on modular units like wind and solar PV.
  • The deployment of bioenergy depends on a strong and supportive policy and regulatory regime that provides for investor certainty over the income streams that projects will receive and also clearly establishes the regulatory requirements that projects must satisfy. For example, regulations must specify levels of emissions to air and water that are permitted and what other sustainability criteria must be achieved. Policy certainty is particularly important for bioenergy projects, where project lead times tend to be long, given the needs to plan technical aspects of projects, to negotiate other energy off-take agreements (sometimes for more than one energy product – e.g. heat and power), and to build up the necessary supply chain.

Addressing these barriers will be fundamental for a successful energy transition in many countries and regions. Governments have important roles to play in providing measures to support deployment and technological innovation. Those measures can include grants, feedin tariffs and certificate schemes, as well as clear policy and regulatory frameworks, such as ambitious targets to drive markets and regulations for waste and blending. Policies and regulations could also help in ensuring that the appropriate infrastructure is in place for the greater uptake of bioenergy. For example, the availability of district heating systems is a powerful enabler for bioenergy heat supply in urban areas. Other enabling policy interventions include improving awareness of the benefits associated with bioenergy by providing clear and reliable information to consumers and potential investors; creating a level playing field through the removal of subsidies for fossil fuels; and introducing carbon pricing or other taxes, levies and duties to put a price on the environmental impacts of fossil fuel energy use.

“Ultimately, the success of the energy transition in mitigating the climate crisis will depend on the policies adopted, the speed of their implementation and the level of resources committed. In our interconnected world, international cooperation and solidarity are not just desirable, they are vital for addressing climate change, economic inequality and social injustice.”

Policies to support biomass use in energy

A wide range of policies and regulatory instruments can reduce barriers to bioenergy development and help create a positive enabling environment, ensuring that its development optimises carbon savings and avoids negative environmental, social or economic impacts.

Direct policies, which are normally used to support the development and deployment of technologies and are typically classified as push or pull, and as fiscal and financial.

Integrating policies, which promote planning and coordination, such as R&D policies and infrastructure policies.

Enabling policies, which focus on reforming the broader institutional architecture to enable systemic effects between the energy sector and the broader economy and which link four crucial national policies: industrial policy, labour market and social protection policy, education and skills policy, and financial policy

G20 member states have a strong economic and political interdependence, with a shared interest in creating a sustainable and stable global environment. G20 countries together can foster the development, deployment and spread of bioenergy technologies. Ultimately, the success of the energy transition in mitigating the climate crisis will depend on the policies adopted, the speed of their implementation and the level of resources committed. In our interconnected world, international cooperation and solidarity are not just desirable, they are vital for addressing climate change, economic inequality and social injustice.

The full report by IRENA can be downloaded by clicking here

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