Issue 13: Why electricity is key to reducing greenhouse gas emissions from Forests

 

Photo credit: Aye Min Soe

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Issue 13 REDD+ Knowledge Myanmar (Myanmar version) Electricity – MM

 

Back in 2015, the World Bank committed $400 million in low interest loans, to assist the government in implementation of the National Electrification Project (NEP).  This is back in the news in recent weeks as the procurement processes for provision of equipment and services gets into full swing.  The objective of the NEP is to provide electricity to 6,210,000 people (1,242,000 households) in 23,000 communities by the end of 2021[1].  Half of the communities will be connected to the national grid, while half will be powered off-grid or through mini-grids.  The significance of this target is that, while different data sources provide different figures[2], only around 40% of Myanmar’s households – or about 4,000,000 households – currently have access to electricity, so this represents a 30% increase over the next 3 years.

 

Why should this matter when we are focused on REDD+?  One of the major drivers of degradation and even of deforestation in Myanmar is demand for fuelwood.  It is very difficult to quantify the impacts of different drivers because of limited data and because drivers interact with each other, but figures from various studies on fuelwood consumption[3] suggest that the amount of woody biomass consumed each year is 8-10 times as much as is harvested for timber (or damaged/destroyed in the harvesting process).  Multiple studies indicate quite consistently that about 80% of households still rely predominantly on fuelwood for cooking.  But experience has shown that when electricity is available on a reliable basis, households quickly switch to electric stoves.  You may wonder why 80% of households still use fuelwood if 40% have access to electricity, and the answer is that for many households in that 40%, the supply is not sufficiently reliable to invest in costly electric stoves.

 

Photo credit: Zarni Min Naing

Still, a heavy reliance on fuelwood is not necessarily contributing to high greenhouse gas emissions from Myanmar’s forests.  For example, if the fuelwood comes from sustainably management plantations, or from waste from wood harvesting, or from old rubber plantations that are being replaced, the carbon would either be released to the atmosphere anyway or will be re-absorbed form the atmosphere.  So, it is important to know where fuelwood is sourced from.  Past studies do not provide consistent data on this.  Some suggest that most fuelwood comes from plantations or home gardens, whereas other studies indicate that natural forests are the predominant source.  Because of this uncertainty, the UN-REDD Programme commissioned a study on this subject.  Although not yet complete, early indications are that in the past most fuelwood did come from natural forests, but the sources are changing as natural forests are depleted.

 

But even if it were the case that three-quarters of the fuelwood comes from outside natural forests, it still represents an enormous amount of biomass, so allowing more households to switch to electricity for cooking will make a huge difference.  The other consideration is industry.  Many industries still make heavy use of fuelwood, and in some cases, electricity does not provide a suitable alternative for various technical reasons.  So electrification is not the “magic bullet” that will solve all of the issues with fuelwood – other interventions, such as incentivizing sustainably managed fuelwood plantations, will still be required.

 

[1] http://projects.worldbank.org/P152936/?lang=en&tab=overview

[2] E.g., the World Bank reports over 50% (https://data.worldbank.org/indicator/EG.ELC.ACCS.ZS?end=2016&locations=MM&start=1990); IIED reports 34 % having “grid quality” electricity (https://www.iied.org/energy-poverty-myanmar-only-34-population-have-grid-quality-electricity)

[3] E.g. https://www.adb.org/sites/default/files/publication/368626/myanmar-energy-consumption-surveys.pdf

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