10 June 2010

The European Commission adopted a regulatory package to encourage industry, governments and NGOs to set up certification schemes for all types of biofuels, including those imported into the EU. The documents laid down what the schemes must do to be recognised by the Commission. The rules for certification schemes are part of a set of guidelines explaining how the Renewable Energy Directive, coming into effect in December 2010, should be implemented.

The action will help implement the EU’s requirements that biofuels must deliver substantial reductions in greenhouse gas emissions and should not come from forests, wetlands and nature protection areas, said the Commission.

The adopted package consists of two Communications and a Decision which focus on the sustainability criteria for biofuels and what is to be done in order to control that only sustainable biofuels are used.

  • Sustainable Biofuel Certificates: The Commission encourages industry, governments and NGOs to set up “voluntary schemes” to certify biofuel sustainability and explains the standards these must meet to gain EU recognition. One of the main criteria is that they have independent auditors which check the entire production chain, from the farmer and the mill, via the trader, to the fuel supplier who delivers gasoline or diesel to the filling station.
  • Protecting untouched nature: The Communication explains that biofuels should not be made from raw materials from tropical forests or recently deforested areas, drained peatland, wetland or highly biodiverse areas and how this should be assessed. It states that the conversion of a forest to a palm oil plantation would fall foul of the sustainability requirements.
  • Promote only biofuels with high greenhouse gas savings: Member States have to meet national targets for renewable energy. The Communication states that only those biofuels with high greenhouse gas savings count for the national targets, explaining also how this is calculated. Biofuels must deliver greenhouse gas savings of at least 35% compared to fossil fuels, rising to 50% in 2017 and to 60%, for biofuels from new plants, in 2018.

The 2009 Renewable Energy Directive sets an overall EU target of 20% renewable energy in total energy consumption by 2020, translated into binding national targets for Member States. Every Member States has to reach individual national targets for the overall share of renewable energy. In addition, in the transport sector, all Member States have to reach the same target of a 10% share of renewable energy. Renewables include solid biomass, wind, solar energy and hydro power as well as biofuels. Only biofuels that meet the EU’s sustainability requirements can count towards the targets in the Directive.

As one of the most cost-effective biofuel feedstocks is palm oil, the EU 10% biofuels target stimulated the growth of palm oil plantations in Malaysia, Indonesia and Latin America. Thousand of hectares of rain forest have been cleared to make space for new plantations, resulting in a loss of habitat for many endangered animal species. Considerable CO2 emissions are also produced when forests are cleared, which may outweigh the greenhouse gas benefit from the biofuel. The biofuels certification scheme is an attempt to protect the remaining rainforests in South-East Asia and other areas from destruction.

Source: European Commission