Presidential candidates urged to review bioenergy policy

Semarang – Indonesian environmental activists are calling on presidential and vice presidential candidates who will contest the 2024 elections to review policies on using forest-based bioenergy in the energy transition program. Traction Energy Asia, Trend Asia, and Forest Watch Indonesia (FWI) said biofuels and biomass, two types of bioenergy that rely on forest raw materials, can hurt nature conservation.

In an online media discussion entitled “Looking at Bioenergy in the Hands of Presidential and Vice Presidential Candidates 2024-2029”, activists expressed their concerns over the large-scale use of bioenergy, especially biofuels.

Traction Energy Asia Executive Director Tommy Pratama expressed concern that relying on biofuels or bioenergy could trigger competition between food and energy, potentially increasing food prices and threatening food security and forest sustainability.

“At COP 28 yesterday, there was a global commitment to reduce emissions from fuels to a more sustainable direction because the climate crisis threatens human existence. Moreover, Indonesia’s position as the 8th largest carbon contributor in the world, so it needs to be accelerated to transition to low-carbon energy,” he said, adding that Indonesia has other abundant renewable energy sources that have not been fully tapped. Pratama cited Traction Energy Indonesia data that wind energy is only utilised 0.1% of the total potential of 155 gigawatts (GW), and solar energy is only utilised 0.01% of the total potential of 3,294.4 GW.

Increasing deforestation rates

Trend Asia Bioenergy Program Manager Amalya Reza Oktavian said co-firing biomass as a substitute for coal in Steam Power Plants (PLTU) can harm biodiversity, community livelihoods and disrupt local food supply, potentially triggering a food crisis. She said energy production through biomass co-firing can lead to a significant surplus of carbon emissions.

“The question now is, what is the commitment of each pair of presidential and vice presidential candidates to reducing emissions through energy transition?” said Oktavian.

FWI Campaign, Advocacy, and Media Manager Anggi Putra Prayoga said biomass production to fulfil co-firing raw materials from 52 coal-fired plants may cause deforestation since it requires 10.2 million tons of biomass from energy plantation forests (HTE). Using forests to meet biomass feedstock will put more than 93 million hectares of natural forests at risk, whose function is also to capture carbon and provide community living space.

“Until 2021, 13 energy plantation forest (HTE) companies have deforested 55 thousand hectares. How is the commitment to protect these natural forests when there is certainly an expansion of deforestation if this project (biomass for co-firing) continues,” he said, adding that the energy produced by biomass through co-firing activities results in a surplus of 26.48 million tons of carbon emissions.

Half-hearted energy transition

In response to the environmentalists’ call, Drajad Wibowo from Prabowo-Gibran’s presidential candidate team claimed that the energy transition program they offered was realistic and achievable. While he acknowledged the vast opportunities of other renewable energies, such as geothermal and solar, he argued that biomass is a logical option for funding and short-term implementation. Wibowo also emphasised the need for sustainability audits to maintain sustainable production.

Irvan Pulungan from Anies-Muhaimin’s team said they would review the bioenergy program by conducting an environmental inventory by Law No. 32/2009 on Environmental Protection and Management. He also promised to increase the achievement of energy transition up to 4% if the Anies-Muhaimin pair is elected.

Meanwhile, Agus Hermanto from the Ganjar-Mahfud team admitted that there are challenges in the energy transition process. However, he emphasised that this process must continue. He also highlighted alternative sources of bioenergy feedstock such as used cooking oil, cassava, and beans. (Hartatik)

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