Biogas Project Ushers Rural Communities into Global Carbon Market

The World Clean Energy Awards, announced in Basel, Switzerland, on June 15, recognize innovative, practical projects that move renewable energy and energy efficiency solutions into the mainstream. Developed by the independent transatlantic21 Association, the awards are intended to create benchmarks for clean energy in seven categories: construction; transport and mobility; products; services, trade, and marketing; finance and investment; policy and lawmaking; and NGOs and initiatives. The Worldwatch Institute was one of eight organizations invited to participate in the nomination and jury process. Eye on Earth is running a weekly feature on each of the nine winners.

Drying cow dung in India
Drying cow dung in India.
Photo by Ed Fladung

A renewable energy project in the North Kolar district of Karnataka, South India, has helped villagers adopt clean energy solutions while also generating emissions “credits” that can be sold on the international carbon market. In June, the Bagepalli CDM Biogas Project received a World Clean Energy Award for its innovative financing solutions using the Kyoto Protocol’s Clean Development Mechanism (CDM). The CDM was set up in 1997 as a way for industrialized countries to meet their commitments for reducing greenhouse gas emissions under the Kyoto agreement while allowing for the sustainable development of developing countries.

The CDM enables polluting industries, governments, and other parties in industrialized countries to “offset” their own emissions by paying for projects that cut or avoid emissions in poorer nations. In doing so, the polluters receive emissions “credits”—known as Certified Emission Reductions (CERs)—that they can then use to meet emissions reduction targets under Kyoto. The recipient countries, in turn, benefit from the infusion of funds and advanced technologies that help their own factories or power plants operate more efficiently and generate fewer emissions.

The Bagepalli biogas project, sponsored by the Bangalore-based group Women for Sustainable Development, utilized the CDM framework to secure financing that allowed individual households in the village to switch from traditional fuels to cleaner-burning biogas. Women in the participating households had been burning highly polluting fuel wood and kerosene for daily cooking needs, resulting in emissions equivalent to 3.6 CERs per year.

A far-sighted investor recognized the potential for raising money and improving women’s health by substituting the fuels with biogas and selling the credits generated from the emissions reductions on the international market. The investor advanced €1.1 million (US$1.5 million) to build 5,500 biogas plants for local households. Through the use of the plants, which convert cow dung into cooking gas, an estimated 19,800 CERs were saved and traded on the carbon market with industry buyers in the industrialized world.

By securing a new source of funds, Bagepalli’s participating households have benefited from reduced dependence on the government and significant livelihood improvements—including better air quality and sanitation and greater household savings. In addition to reducing greenhouse gas emissions, the use of the biogas relieves stress on forests in drought-prone areas by lowering the demand for fuel wood.

Beyond the 5,500 direct beneficiaries of the project, the methodology furthered by the Bagepalli initiative is applicable to another 10–50 million households in India that currently rely on kerosene, fuel wood, and other inefficient sources of energy. The methodology is set to be approved before being submitted to the next U.N. Climate Change Conference to be held in Bali, Indonesia, in December.

This story was produced by Eye on Earth, a joint project of the Worldwatch Institute and the blue moon fund. View the complete archive of Eye on Earth stories, or contact Staff Writer Alana Herro at aherro [AT] worldwatch [DOT] org with your questions, comments, and story ideas.