Africa’s potential gains for climate as AU joins the G20 Global Biofuel Alliance

September 18, 2023 - Reading Time: 4 minutes - By Naisiae Simiren

The G20 Summit was recently concluded with its members including the African Union meeting in India’s capital city New Delhi. The climax of this year’s G20 Summit was the G20 New Delhi Leaders’ Declaration which recognized the importance of sustainable biofuels in zero and low-emission development strategies and the setting up of a Global Biofuels Alliance (GBA).

The GBA is an initiative by India as the G20 chair with support from the USA, Brazil, South Africa, Argentina, Italy, UAE, Mauritius, Bangladesh and other observer countries. International organisations in support of the GBA include the World Bank, World Economic Forum, Asian Development Bank, International Energy Agency, International Renewable Energy Agency, International Energy Forum and International Civil Aviation Organization. Biofuels are a result of biomass converted into liquid fuels an example ethanol and biodiesel. The Alliance seeks to facilitate international cooperation in the use of sustainable biofuels.

According to the International Energy Agency, the USA and Brazil are the world’s largest producers of biofuels ethanol and biodiesel.  The USA relies on maize as the principal feedstock for its fuel ethanol while Brazil uses sugar cane, both countries rely on soybeans for biodiesel production. In both the USA and Brazil, fuel ethanol and biodiesel are blended with transport fossil fuels. India currently blends 10% ethanol with petrol with the hope of increasing blending to 20% in the next two to three years as it also considers blending diesel by April 2024.   

The objective of the GBA is to expedite the global uptake of biofuels by facilitating technology advancements, intensifying the utilisation of sustainable biofuels, and influencing policy support through the participation of a wide spectrum of stakeholders. The GBA is designed as a central repository of knowledge and expertise hub drawing on the technological advancements of India, the US, and Brazil among others. GBA also aims to serve as a catalytic platform, fostering global collaboration for the advancement and widespread adoption of biofuels.

Widespread adoption of biofuels such as ethanol and biodiesel occurs mostly in developing economies that are keen on reducing oil imports and maximising the use of natural resources to benefit the local economy. In addition, the adoption of biofuels helps in lowering greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions which mostly benefits advanced economies and is critical for achieving net zero emissions by 2050.

Policy support is critical in advancing a case for biofuel. For instance, in the USA, policy support for biofuels is eligibility for compliance credits under the Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS2). In Brazil, there are two types of policy support for biofuels, these include RenovaBio programme which requires fuel distributors to obtain emissions reduction certificates and taxation where biofuels compete with fossil fuels prices at the pump.

The African Union joins the G20 as a permanent member. From the recently concluded Africa Climate Summit (ACS), it is worth noting that fossil fuels were not an agenda that was discussed or committed under the Nairobi Declaration. However, the issue of climate funding from advanced countries was discussed during the ACS. The Nairobi Declaration committed to building effective partnerships between Africa and other regions to meet the needs for financial, technical, and technological support, and knowledge sharing for climate change adaptation.  On the other hand, the New Delhi Declaration committed to work towards facilitating access to low-cost financing for developing countries, for existing as well as new and emerging clean and sustainable energy technologies, for supporting the energy transitions. India as a G20 chair presented a report on “Low-cost Financing for the Energy Transitions” which estimates that the world needs an annual investment of over USD 4 trillion, with a high share of renewable energy in the primary energy mix.

While biomass does not provide the solution required for total scrapping off of the use of fossil fuels, it provides an immediate mitigation towards GHG emissions from fossil fuels. It requires certain policy support such as taxation. The Nairobi Declaration called for the implementation of a mix of measures that elevate Africa’s share of carbon markets. The Africa Carbon Markets Initiative launched at COP27 will play a critical role in elevating Africa’s carbon market share, especially among the global north in need of carbon credits and unlocking finance for Africa.

Embracing biofuel requires improved agricultural production for both surplus agricultural produce and feedstock for biomass. Africa boasts massive agricultural land, however, climate change has affected food production on the continent. The Nairobi Declaration noted the need to redouble efforts to boost agricultural yields through sustainable agricultural practices, to enhance food security while minimising negative environmental impacts. The New Delhi Declaration committed to accelerating innovations and investment focused on increasing agricultural productivity through increasing access to fertilizer and agricultural inputs. The G20 leaders are also committed to accelerating innovations and investment focused on reducing food loss and waste across the value chain and improving marketing and storage. Proper storage mechanisms are critical for the collection of waste and residue.  

Africa Union’s new membership in the G20 is a win for Africa, especially in strengthening its efforts towards net zero emissions. Embracing biofuel is critical in reaching net zero emission goals, it may be a slow progression for Africa which contributes less GHG emissions but certainly, it requires building partnerships between the global south and north to reach net zero. The GBA stands to benefit the African Union, however, this is premised upon members of the G20 staying true to their commitments, especially financial. 

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