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Old fuel for a new future: the potential of wood energy

Paula Caballero's picture
A woman buying a clean cookstove in Tanzania. Klas Sander / World Bank

The use of wood energy – including firewood and charcoal – is largely considered an option of last resort. It evokes time-consuming wood collection, health hazards and small-scale fuel used by poor families in rural areas where there are no other energy alternatives.

And to a certain extent this picture is accurate. A study by the Alliance for Clean Cookstoves found that women in India spend the equivalent of two weeks every year collecting firewood, which they use to cook and heat their homes. Indoor air pollution caused by the smoke from burning firewood is known to lead to severe health problems: the WHO estimates 4.3 million deaths a year worldwide attributed to diseases associated with cooking and heating with solid fuels. Incomplete combustion creates short-lived climate pollutants, which also act as powerful agents of climate change.

But wood is a valuable source of energy for many of the 2.9 billion people worldwide who lack access to clean cooking facilities, including in major cities. It fuels many industries, from brickmaking and metal processing in the Congo Basin to steel and iron production in Brazil.  

In fact, the value of charcoal production in Africa was estimated at more than $8 billion in 2007, creating livelihoods for about seven million women and men, and catering to a rapidly growing urban demand. From this standpoint, wood energy makes up an enterprise of industrial scale. 

So, instead of disregarding wood energy as outdated, we must think of the economic, social and environmental benefits that would derive from modernizing its use. After all, wood energy is still one of the most widespread renewable fuels at our disposal. We already have the technological know-how to enhance the sustainability of wood energy value chains. Across the European Union’s 28 member states, wood and solid biofuels produced through “modern” methods accounted for nearly half of total primary energy from renewables in 2012.

Human wellbeing depends on a functioning planet—the Pope’s call

Paula Caballero's picture
Children in Bhutan look out on terraced fields. (Photo by Curt Carnemark / World Bank)The papal encyclical “on care for our common home” reflects the kind of insightful and decisive leadership that will be needed to reverse trends that will affect humanity’s capacity to feed itself and provide for collective well-being. The encyclical is not only a sobering call to address climate change, but also a manifesto for environmental stewardship and action. It touches on topics that we, as earth’s dominant species, need to urgently care about if we are to keep millions out of poverty today and tomorrow, and deliver on the rising expectations of a global middle class.

At the core of the encyclical is both a concern for the health of the planet and for the earth’s poor, reflected in a commitment to social values and integrity, environmental resilience, and economic inclusion.

The stock-taking begins, aptly, with pollution: “Some forms of pollution are part of people’s daily experience. Exposure to atmospheric pollutants produces a broad spectrum of health hazards, especially for the poor, and causes millions of premature deaths.” The World Bank’s latest edition of the Little Green Data Book finds indeed that in low and middle-income countries, 86% of the residents are exposed to air pollution levels (measured in exposure particulate matter less than 2.5 microns in diameter) that exceed World Health Organization (WHO) guidelines. The WHO last year made headlines when it calculated that 7 million people had died prematurely from indoor and outdoor air pollution in 2012. From safer cookstoves in rural areas, to better air quality management in fast growing cities, this is an area where solutions are known and must be urgently applied.

Lessons on Forests from Brazil to Ethiopia and Mozambique

André Rodrigues de Aquino's picture
Photo by Andrea Aquino / World Bank​Can Ethiopia and Mozambique learn a lesson from Brazil on harnessing forests sustainably for economic growth?
Thanks to a recent knowledge exchange program, yes!
As we can all imagine, Africa’s lush greenery and planted forests offer huge potential but the sector’s expansion faces major barriers like access to land, lack of access to affordable long-term finance and weak prioritization of the sector.
Take Ethiopia, for example. About 66.5 million cubic meters of the country (46% of total wood-fuel demand) is subject to non-sustainable extraction from natural forest, wood- and scrublands, resulting in deforestation and land degradation. In Mozambique, charcoal is still produced from native forests, leading to immense pressure on natural resources, and way beyond its regeneration capacity. Both countries want to know how the forest sector can contribute to their national development plans and help grow their economies and reduce rural poverty, while being environmentally sustainable.
This topic is of even more importance as we celebrate the International Day of Forests on March 21, and helps us raise awareness on the need to preserve forests and use this natural wealth in a responsible and sustainable manner.

Climate smart management for farms, forests and everything in between

Diji Chandrasekharan Behr's picture
A high-level panel on adaptation-based mitigation at the Global Landscape Forum 2014 in Lima, Peru. (Photo by PROFOR)The energy at the Global Landscapes Forum held alongside the UNFCCC climate negotiations in Lima was electric—charged by the enthusiasm of the scientists, practitioners, indigenous peoples, investors, policy makers, youth and government negotiators who came together to share their latest innovations, tools and ideas for tackling climate change across land uses—from farms to forests and everything in between. Conversations were passionate as we discussed how to bring together our efforts to address climate change and achieve sustainable development at the landscape level—by working in a coordinated manner on agriculture, forests, water and more. 

A notable shift at the 2014 Forum from previous ones, in addition to the mounting numbers in attendance (the event “sold out” with registration closing weeks early), was the buzz about adaptation. It permeated across panels and speakers, making clear the conversation on land-based sectors and climate change has moved well beyond mitigation. The Program on Forests (PROFOR) contributed to advancing the conversation by convening a high-level panel on “Moving forward with adaptation-based mitigation.”    

Liberia, Norway and the World Bank Partner for Sustainable Forest Management

Paola Agostini's picture
Photo by Flore de Preneuf / PROFOR
​It’s not very often that the end of a talk is as exciting as its beginning. Perhaps that should be expected when one witnesses historical moments in time—what can be called true game changers.  Harrison Karnwea, the managing director of Liberia’s Forestry Development Authority (FDA), recently joined us at the World Bank, just days after the UN Climate Summit in New York and the signing of a $150 million grant Letter of Intent for a Forests REDD+ program between his country and Norway to be facilitated by the World Bank.

Under the agreement, Liberia and Norway will work together to improve the framework for forest governance, strengthen law enforcement and support efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from deforestation and forest degradation in Liberia. Improved governance and adequate law enforcement in the forest sector and agriculture impede further destruction of Liberia’s rainforests and aim to avoid illegal logging and unsustainable agricultural practices. In a country where timber was once used to purchase weapons and helped fuel a devastating civil war, the partnership holds promise to reduce carbon emissions related to deforestation and forest degradation, facilitate green growth and enhance livelihoods.

Liberia has a population of approximately 3.5 million people and 4.5 million hectares of lowland tropical forests—one of the largest contiguous forest blocks that remains in West Africa. Liberia’s forests are also widely recognized as a global hotspot of diversity, boasting flora and fauna (like pygmy hippos) that is both rare and at risk.

Liberia plans to conserve 30 percent or more of its forests as protected areas with the remainder to be used for sustainable forest management and community forestry.

Empowering new generations to act

Paula Caballero's picture
Also available in: العربية | Español | Français | 中文
Photo by CIAT via CIFOR FlickrWhen I look at the rate of resource depletion, at soil erosion and declining fish stocks, at climate change’s impacts on nearly every ecosystem, I see a physical world that is slowly but inexorably degrading. I call it the "receding reality"—the new normal—slow onset phenomena that lull us into passivity and acceptance of a less rich and diverse world.

In my lifetime, I have seen waters that were teeming with multi-colored fish, turn dead like an empty aquarium. I have seen the streets of Bogota, my home town, lose thousands of trees in a matter of years.

It’s tempting to feel demoralized. But as the world’s protected area specialists, conservationists and decision makers gather in Sydney, Australia, this week for the World Parks Congress, there is also much to hope for.


On Biodiversity Day: From pets to safety nets

Valerie Hickey's picture

Over the last 15 years, the amount of money spent on pets in the U.S. jumped from $17 billion to $43 billion annually. Birding is catching on in popularity globally.Clearly people love their animals -and not just their pets either.  Perhaps this is why biodiversity conservation has attracted so many advocates and so much attention around the world. Newspapers routinely report on the discovery of new species and the demise of others.  Nature as theater, both gripping and grizzly, is wildly popular when captured on film.
And yet, conservation biology, the interdisciplinary pursuit of saving wild species and wilderness, is at best marginal in the public policy sphere, particularly in development circles. Often, so too is environment more broadly. In this marketplace of ideas, conservation is certainly not king. Though it should be.

Measuring What Matters: Acknowledging Nature’s Role in the Global Economy

Russ Mittermeier's picture
Also available in: Español
Countries Go Beyond GDP to Make Natural Capital Count for Development

“Accounting” may not be a word that gets many pulses racing. But what if I told you that a new kind of accounting — called natural capital accounting — could revolutionize the way the world’s nations assess and value their economies?
Currently, gross domestic product (GDP) is the most widely used indicator of a country’s economic status. But while this number places a value on all the goods and services produced by that economy, it doesn’t account for its “natural capital” — the ecosystems and the services they provide, from carbon sequestration to freshwater regulation to pollination.

Why Protecting Elephants From Poaching Matters More Than You Think

Julian Lee's picture
Also available in: العربية | Français | Español

Elephants – in particular the forest elephants of Central Africa – are being poached at unprecedented rates for their valuable ivory. It is estimated that at least 200,000 forest elephants – a whopping 65 percent of the elephant population – have been slaughtered since 2002. Gabon and the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) have been hotspots for the killing.

Now you might ask why we should care--an especially appropriate question to ask as we celebrate Earth Day. As humans, we may be attached to charismatic species such as elephants – but will their extinction affect us directly? The answer is yes.  The intricate interconnections within ecosystems mean that the disappearance of a species has effects that are never limited to just that particular species.  The impact can be broad and deep, affecting other animal and plant species, our water supply, people’s livelihoods, and even – in small ways – the climate.

Forum sonrası ormanların görünümü

Peter Dewees's picture
Also available in: English

Birkaç hafta önce İstanbul’da gerçekleştirilen Birleşmiş Milletler Orman Forumu’nun 10. Oturumunun açılışı ve Türkiye Başbakanı Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’ın orman kaybının durdurulması konusunun ciddiye alınması yönünde küresel topluluğa yaptığı ateşli çağrı ile ilgili bir blog yazısı yazmıştım. Başbakan Erdoğan bu çağrıyı alışılmadık bir şekilde iklim değişikliği veya biyolojik çeşitlilik kaybı ile ilgili endişelere herhangi bir atıfta bulunmadan yapmıştı; bunun yerine basit bir şekilde “bunu ahlaki sorumluluk gereği gerçekleştirmemiz gerekiyor” demişti.
Erdoğan konuşmasında "İnsanlığın karşı karşıya olduğu küresel tehditler ‘bana ne başkasından’ deme lüksünü ortadan kaldırıyor’” demiş ve eklemişti: “Biz sadece gövde taşıyan, gövdesinin üzerine kafa, o kafanın içinde beyin taşıyan fizyolojik varlıklar değiliz. Biz kalp, ruh ve vicdan taşıyoruz.”
Peki günlerce süren tartışmaların ve müzakerelerin sonucunda BM Forumu neyi başardı? Forum, Erdoğan’ın çağrısına karşılık verdi mi?
Her ne kadar bunu hemen görmek mümkün olmasa da, bu soruların cevabı tek kelime ile “evet”. Parantez içinde ifade edilen  metnin neticede daha açık bir anlayışa ve somut eyleme yol açtığı bu tip müzakerelerde görüşlerin birbirine yavaş bir şekilde yakınlaşması her zaman belirgin bir şekilde gözlemlenemeyebilir.