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SUSTAINABLE BIOMASS PRODUCTION; A RENEWED ENERGY OFFERING AN OPPORTUNITY FOR SOCIOECONOMIC DEVELOPMENT IN SRI LANKA

SUSTAINABLE BIOMASS PRODUCTION; A RENEWED ENERGY OFFERING AN OPPORTUNITY FOR SOCIOECONOMIC DEVELOPMENT IN SRI LANKA

Climate change is happening. In recent years we assist to an increase of worldwide awareness regarding the negative environmental consequences of heavy dependence of fossil fuels. As we all now, societies need energy services to meet basic human needs and for productive processes. However, the delivery of this energy needs to be secure with lower environmental impacts and low greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. As the IPCC reported, the combustion of fossil fuels accounted for 56.6% in 2008 of all GHG emissions. Nowadays it would be very hard to deny that greenhouse gas emissions have been increasing faster since the middle of the twentieth century. At the time of the first UN climate change conference that took place in 1995, atmospheric concentration of carbon dioxide was 361 parts per million. In 2014 it has reached 399 parts per million. Between 2000 and 2010 the rise in greenhouse gas emissions was faster than in previous decades. Changes in the atmospheric level of carbon dioxide (CO2) (which is the biggest contributor to global warming) persist for centuries, observing a peak in recent years.

Climate change is mostly caused by greenhouse gases since the latter trap heat in the atmosphere making the Earth warmer. Greenhouse gas emissions were a direct consequence of the industrialization process, where ‘useful things’ were created, such as line electricity generation, modern transport and modern agriculture. Since the mid-19th century, global use of fossil fuels (coal, oil and gas) has increased to dominate energy supply leading to a rapid growth in carbon dioxide. Even though some countries produce more greenhouses than others, emissions from every country contribute to the problem. That is the main reason why adjustments of all kinds and a global action are needed if we want explicitly fight against global warming. All methods of removing carbon dioxide from the atmosphere are welcome if climate change is to be mitigated.

The international community mostly agree on the fact that, in order to avert climate changes, there is an increasingly need for a widespread application on renewable energy. According to several studies, out of the different sources of renewable energy commonly known and available, it seems that biomass energy production (which is the transformation of biomass into other forms of energy such as heat and electricity) is one of the most feasible alternatives for the future energy production in Sri Lanka. That is the reason why well-conceived projects that aim to promote the development of a sustainable biomass energy production are not only welcome, but also they need to be encouraged further as there is a really potential for this kind of development.

The current socio-economic situation in Sri Lanka offers a real opportunity to encourage sustainable biomass energy production. Considering the advantage position that the country already has in terms of the biomass production, it would be worth continuing promoting this indigenous source of energy, but in a sustainable way. Sri Lanka benefits of a long history in using biomass already. Wood has been used since ancient times for cooking and heating purposes. However still a great number of households and small companies continue using biomass in a traditional way with low efficiencies (through combustion) having serious negative impacts on health and living conditions.

The current socio-economic situation in Sri Lanka offers a real opportunity to encourage sustainable biomass energy production. Since the end of the civil war that lasted almost 26 years, Sri Lanka has recorded strong real GDP growth rates ranging from 3.4% (its lowest level observed in 2013) to 8% in 2010. This economic growth increase has tremendous positive effects on the economy as a whole. Just to mention a few benefits, economic growth leads higher average incomes enabling people to enjoy more goods and services and better standard of living. It lowers unemployment as firms tend to employ more workers. It improves public services since the government can collect more taxes and then spend more on public services such as education, health and infrastructures. Investment increases encouraging a virtuous cycle of growth. Finally, environmental protection is encouraged as, with higher real GDP, more resources can be devoted to promote renewable resources.

Despite all these positive effects that are driven by growth, it is worth mentioning that if rapid economic grown is not sustainable, this can create other economic problems especially for future generation. In order words, economic growth without integrating environmental issues can lead to other problems including air pollution, deforestation, depletion of fish stocks, loss of natural habitat and bio diversity just to mention a few.

In the past years, and thanks to the rapid economic growth, the demand of good and services has increased, so does the demand for imported petroleum derivate products. That has generated a heavy dependence on imported fossil fuels. But what it is happing today is that we are facing a steady oil prices escalations, affecting negatively profitability and competitiveness of many local enterprises. This oil prices increase represents another significant opportunity to encourage households and industries to switch from fossil fuels to fuelwood as a source of cheaper energy.

Various studies and surveys were conducted using different biomass models and the findings suggest that there is a real potential in developing biomass cultivation in Sri Lanka. Most of the programs are financially viable and programs are profitable. The country already benefits of an advantage position since biomass is already the most common source of energy supply in the country. The tea industry is the largest industrial consumer of fuelwood, followed by the textile, rubber electricity power plans and sugar. Then the commercial sectors such as restaurants, hotels etc. use also fuelwood for cooking. Finally, households and small farmers use fuelwood, but most of the times they operate in traditional ways by burning wood residues and thereby gradually poison themselves.

Many challenges remain to continue promoting further biomass cultivation. Some of the difficulties are: the access to information on forestry options and land requirements, estimation of the present and future demands of fuelwood the surplus land available to be used for producing biomass, more case studies on the different models and possibilities, affordability of the technology just to mention a few. Besides mentioning some of the difficulties for promoting biomass production, it is necessary also to add some of the most common barriers to this kind of renewal energy; high investment costs, difficulty in obtaining credits, low incentives, lack of coordination among different government agencies among others. However, despite all these complications and impediments, one of the main challenges of Sri Lanka is how this country will position to take advantage of various opportunities currently present to transition to modern bio-energy technologies. It is worth encouraging sustainable biomass energy production further, making transition from a traditional use to a modern sustainable one. It will not only be environmental friendly but also will contribute positively in many social economic aspects; such as employment generation in rural areas, agricultural development rural economic development and environmental enhancement.

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