Logo of the PBL Netherlands Environmental Assessment Agency
To the main menuTo the main content
Energy and Climate Change

Modeling the Effects of Future Growing Demand for Charcoal in the Tropics

Article | 14-06-2017

Global demand for charcoal is increasing mainly due to urban population in developing countries. More than half the global population now lives in cities, and urban-dwellers are restricted to charcoal use because of easiness of production, access, transport, and tradition. Increasing demand for charcoal, however, may lead to increasing impacts on forests, food, and water resources, and may even create additional pressures on the climate system. Here we assess how different charcoal scenarios based on the Shared Socio-economic Pathways (SSP) relate to potential biomass supply.

For this, we use the energy model TIMER to project the demand for fuelwood and charcoal for different socio-economic pathways for urban and rural populations, globally, and for four tropical regions (Central America, South America, Africa and Indonesia).

Second, we assess whether the biomass demands for each scenario can be met with current and projected forest biomass estimated with remote sensing and modeled Net Primary Productivity (NPP) using a Dynamic Global Vegetation Model (LPJ-GUESS).

Currently one third of residential energy use is based on traditional bioenergy, including charcoal. Globally, biomass needs by urban households by 2100 under the most sustainable scenario, SSP1, are of 14.4 mi ton biomass for charcoal plus 17.1 mi ton biomass for fuelwood (31.5 mi ton biomass in total). Under SSP3, the least sustainable scenario, we project a need of 205 mi tons biomass for charcoal plus 243.8 mi ton biomass for fuelwood by 2100 (total of 450 mi ton biomass). Africa and South America contribute the most for this biomass demand, however, all areas are able to meet the demand.

We find that the future of the charcoal sector is not dire. Charcoal represents a small fraction of the energy requirements, but its biomass demands are disproportionate and in some regions require a large fraction of forest. This could be because of large growing populations moving to urban areas, conversion rates, production inefficiencies, and regions that despite available alternative energy sources still use a substantial amount of charcoal. We present a framework that combines Integrated Assessment Models and local conditions to assess whether a sustainable sector can be achieved.

Author(s)M. J. Santos; Stefan C. Dekker; Vassilis Daioglou; Maarten C. Braakhekke; Detlef P. van Vuuren
Publication date14-06-2017
PublicationFrontiers in Environmental Science