The intersection of conservation and development ignites in a blue flame in Nepal. By promoting alternative energy, specifically biogas, World Wildlife Fund (WWF) is supporting clean energy that plays a critical role in alleviating poverty and restoring forest ecosystems, while reducing environmental degradation and addressing climate change. Expanding the use of alternative, renewable cooking systems is an effective way to provide energy to households in rural areas of the Terai Arc Landscape in southern Nepal.

The Terai Arc Landscape is home to over 7 million people, lush sub-tropical forests, and iconic wildlife including tigers, rhinos, and elephants. With a dense population, high biodiversity, and fragile ecosystems, deforestation is a critical issue across the region. Unsustainable fuelwood extraction affects both community and government-managed forests. To address this driver of deforestation, WWF has been working closely with the Government of Nepal, Alternative Energy Promotion Center, Biogas Sector Partnership, and local communities to expand the use of biogas to reduce dependence on and consumption of forest resources. In terms of forest conservation, one biogas unit saves around 4.5 tons of fuelwood per year, with 30 biogas units helping to conserve one hectare of forest. Each biogas unit also reduces over 4 tons of CO2 emissions per year.

To capitalize on the forest and climate benefits of biogas, WWF launched the Gold Standard biogas program in Nepal in 2007, and successfully installed 7,500 biogas plants by 2011. The program has been a key strategy in reducing deforestation, restoring forests, and reestablishing corridor connectivity that is critical for wildlife. The program reduced 151,000 tons of CO2 emissions, producing over $2.1 million in revenue through the sale of carbon credits. The program’s sustainable financing scheme subsequently channeled back this revenue to local communities through revolving funds and community-managed micro-finance institutions, which provide low interest loans to install biogas. The program benefitted 37,500 people, and created employment opportunities for more than 2,500 people. Also, the social benefits of biogas are manifold, including improving health by lessening indoor smoke inhalation, improving sanitation through the installation of toilets attached to the biogas units, and saving time collecting fuelwood for women and children. The second phase started in 2013 and will scale up the program to an additional 20,000 households by 2020. This will directly benefit 100,000 Nepalese people.

A key element of the biogas program moving forward is continuing to concentrate investment in model villages to deliver even greater impact. In model villages, at least 80% of households have biogas. WWF helped establish 4 model villages near Chitwan and Bardia National Parks, as the villages are critical corridors for wildlife and important for communities reliant on natural resources for their livelihoods. This milestone generated a sense of pride and commitment to conservation among the communities, and WWF is now working to establish model villages in clusters, which is advancing this approach in entire jurisdictions.

Continuing to collaborate with local and national partners, and the Global Alliance for Clean Cookstoves, will be instrumental in advancing the biogas program in Nepal. This will be crucial in making strides to reduce emissions from fuelwood consumption and meet Nepal’s national climate change mitigation targets submitted to the United Nations. Working in partnership will help to ensure the blue flame continues to burn for people, forests, and wildlife in Nepal.

Read more about WWF’s work on biogas in Nepal here.