Green light for sustainable biofuels standards

21st July 2011


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The European Commission (EC) has approved seven voluntary certification standards to ensure biofuels are produced ethically and reduce greenhouse gases (GHG).

To gain certification biofuels producers must show that crops grown to create the fuel were not cultivated on land of high biodiversity value, such as protected tropical forest, or in areas that store a high amount of carbon, such as peatlands.

The production chain for the fuels will also have to produce at least 35% less GHG emissions than fossil fuels and this threshold will increase over time.

The EC has confirmed the schemes are aimed at ensuring the sustainability of biofuels which are expected to play a key role in Europe meeting its target of at least 10% of energy used in transport to be renewable by 2020.

In making the announcement, European commissioner for energy Günther Oettinger said: "We need to make sure that the entire biofuels' production and supply chain is sustainable.

“This is why we have set the highest sustainability standards in the world. The schemes recognised on the EU level today are a good example of a transparent and reliable system which ensures that these high standards are met."

The approved schemes include the German-government financed ISCC scheme, which covers all types of biofuels, the Bonsucro EU roundtable initiative for sugarcane-based fuels which focuses on Brazil and the RTRS EU RED roundtable scheme for soy-based fuels produced in Argentina and Brazil.

Welcoming the news of the German-funded system’s approval, ISCC managing director Norbert Schmitz said: “We hope that this will also be a driver for many companies from the food, animal feed and chemicals industries to start biomass certification on a voluntary basis. Biomass certification for energy purposes can only be a starting point of preventing further nature destruction and reducing greenhouse gas emissions.”

The potential negative impacts of biofuels have been the subject of several reports in recent months, including one in April by the UK’s Nuffield Council on Bioethics which argued that EU policy on biofuels was weak in protecting the environment and avoiding human rights violations, and should be replaced.

Following the EC’s announcement, a study released by the Farm Foundation revealed that growing demand for biofuels from the US was pushing up food prices as farmers switch to growing corn and soybeans from food crops.

The report’s authors confirmed that in 2005 6.4 million hectares were being used to grow crops to supply all of the ethanol in the US; in 2010 this had risen to 18.6 million hectares.

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