Sustainable Forestry as a Source of Bioenergy for Fossil Fuel Substitution

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Centre for Atmospheric Sciences, Indian Institute of Technology, New Delhi, India

Abstract: In tropical countries, anthropogenic pressures have led to deforestation and degradation of forests and pasture lands. Realising the large potential and also the importance of producing biomass for energy as a substitute for fossil fuel, using degraded land for plantation forestry has been emphasised in recent years and could become one of the most important counter-agents to deforestation. In India, the area under forests has been reported to be stable at 65 Mha since 1982, although the area under dense forests (> 40% tree crown cover) has been increasing, which suggests an increase in carbon stocks sequestered by Indian forests. The current rate of afforestation in India is one of the largest in the world (about 2 Mha per annum). However, rural households in India depend largely on forests for their basic biomass needs such as medicines, fuelwood, livestock feed and raw materials for various products. Looking to the future needs of biomass in the country and the extent of land available for biomass production, the rate of afforestation needs to be further increased to meet the future demands for biomass. Bio-energy strategies offer the prospect of reduced emissions to the atmosphere through storage of carbon in the biosphere and use of biofuels to replace fossil fuel use. A package of practices for high yields from productive tree species and short rotation tree crops suited for different agro-climatic regions of India is therefore crucial.

According to recent landuse - land cover statistics for India generated by remote sensing techniques, the area under non-forested degraded lands is 93.68 Mha and 35.89 Mha under forested degraded lands. The available land area which could be effectively utilised for biomass production in India amounts to 65.45 Mha. If a conservative productivity of 4 tonnes per hectare per year could be attained on only about half of the available surplus degraded land in India, it would be possible to obtain a carbon emission reduction of about 8 Gt in 100 years, compared to 4.4 Gt through carbon sequestration and storage options. Substitution of biofuels for coal reduces CO2 and also the emissions of and In addition to obtaining higher carbon abatement benefits, the development of sustainable forestry for bioelectricity is also likely to lead to significant rural employment. This calls for a viable financial and institutional mechanism to promote sustainable forestry for bio-energy in developing countries.

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