Unlocking the Potential of Energy Crops on Degraded Land: Addressing the Challenge of Identifying ‘Idle Land’

Numerous authors have highlighted the significant energy crop potential on degraded land. However, a major obstacle to realizing production on idle land is the absence of an internationally agreed-upon definition for “idle land.”

The lack of clarity regarding what qualifies as ‘idle’ land poses a substantial barrier to production on such areas. To overcome this, it is recommended that stakeholders, including market players, NGOs, and governments, collaborate on establishing a program to identify areas classified as idle land. This initiative should leverage existing knowledge, particularly in biodiversity protection as outlined in the Convention on Biological Diversity.

Additionally, the program should involve active consultations with:

  • Local and national governments in relevant areas.
  • Biodiversity experts with local experience.
  • Local communities, supported by NGOs with local representation.
  • Industry representatives.

The following guidelines are suggested for designating land as idle land suitable for sustainable biomass production:

  • Compliance with the criteria of the RTFO Sustainable Biomass Meta-Standard (a biofuel certification system under development in the UK) on carbon stock conservation.
  • Adherence to all criteria of the RTFO Sustainable Biomass Meta-Standard on Biodiversity, ensuring no conversion in or near areas with High Conservation Values.
  • Fulfillment of all criteria of the RTFO Sustainable Biomass Meta-Standard on land rights and community relations.
  • In a reference year (e.g., 30-11-2005), the land should not have been used for any other significant productive function, unless a viable alternative exists and has been applied without violating these criteria for “idle land.”

The criteria regarding biodiversity specifically reference High Conservation Values, a concept introduced by the Forest Stewardship Council. Guidelines for identifying these values have already been drafted and applied, making it a potentially valuable option to expand this process to include the identification of idle land.

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