Policies related to wood energy in Asian countries are largely confined to the forestry sector and generally aim to ensure a sustainable and affordable supply of wood energy, mainly for subsistence use. In fact, wood energy relates to many policy areas, e.g. energy, forestry, agriculture, environment, health and gender. As of yet, this is not fully acknowledged.
In the seventies, the formulation of the "fuelwood gap theory", led to serious concerns about the demand and supply situation of fuelwood. The gap theory assumed that all woodfuels were supplied by public forests only, and that woodfuel use would increase at the same rate as population, which would result in overexploitation of resources and a severe shortage of woodfuels. Policies to overcome the "gap" between demand and supply, either aimed to reduce demand or to increase supply. Both approaches were essentially technology-oriented, without properly acknowledging local conditions and economic, social and other aspects.
Typically, demand-side policies follow two approaches. The first approach aims to improve energy efficiency of wood energy technologies through improved cookstoves and charcoal kilns. The second approach aims to encourage fuel switching by providing price subsidies for conventional fuels and is often sidelined by the banning of woodfuel use for specific purposes. Supply-side policies concentrate on protecting forest resources and planting of trees for fuelwood. Tree planting approaches include large-scale fuelwood plantations, social forestry projects (community- and agro-forestry) and natural forest management.
Most of these interventions have failed to have a visible impact on forest degradation or fuelwood scarcities, whether real or perceived, and some even created adverse impacts. The interventions were based on inadequate information and wrong assumptions, and mostly ignored the complex interactions between woodfuel demand and supply, local conditions and social aspects. They were often conceptualized and implemented top-down, without properly involving local participation and investigating local needs and problems.
Many people consider wood energy as a traditional fuel that is phasing out. But in fact, woodfuel consumption is still increasing and wood energy is increasingly being used for modern applications. Many countries consume more wood energy than any other single fuel. Consequently, wood energy should be included in national energy and forestry policies, which is now being implemented in several countries. Other relevant policy areas include agriculture, industries, rural development, employment, environment, technology transfer, gender, public health, and foreign exchange.
Wood energy policy development, as for any other policy field, requires proper institutions. This includes the recognition of the importance of wood energy by high-level decision-makers, the development and enhancement of energy planning bodies, and the strengthening of local institutions for implementing wood energy programs. Training of energy and forestry staff on wood energy plays an important role in this.
Policies can only be effective when they are based on real needs of woodfuel actors, so they should be involved in policy development and implementation. Wood energy policies also should provide the framework for private sector initiatives. For this purpose the policies need to be transparent, specific (i.e. setting real targets), and consistent (i.e. implications of policies set by different ministries and department should not be conflicting).
Policy development needs to be supported by planning. At present, wood energy is not sufficiently incorporated in planning activities of energy and forestry planning institutions. The expertise and responsibilities of these institutions need to be enhanced with regards to wood energy, preferably by setting up special wood energy units, similar to units for coal, oil and electricity. Such a unit would be responsible for analyzing wood energy situations and trends, and for preparing proper interventions and policies in relation with other development goals.
Gradually, this will lead to the improvement of wood energy data bases. At present, wood energy data are mostly limited to energy consumption at national level. On the supply side, data on forest resources are incomplete and data on non-forest resources are hardly available. This may be sufficient for macro-level, indicative planning, but it is inadequate for the development of specific policies and local interventions. Data base development can occur in an iterative manner and parallel to planning. New data lead to new analyses, and new analyses leads to the identification of data gaps, which can be filled by data collection.
In 1993, RWEDP organized a seminar on "Policy Instruments for Implementation of Wood Energy Development Programmes" attended by energy and forestry policy-makers from member countries. Wood energy policy issues were discussed at the two meetings of the Regional Advisory Committee of RWEDP in 1995 and 1997. In July 1997, RWEDP briefed energy ministers and senior energy officials from ASEAN countries on wood and biomass energy issues. Recently, RWEDP initiated country studies on policies related to wood energy. In July 1998 an expert consultation was organized to discuss the results of these studies. In June 1998 an expert consultation on the integration of wood energy in forestry education was organized.
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© FAO-RWEDP, 1999