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European Commission approves schemes for biofuels sustainability

The European Commission has approved seven schemes for biofuels sustainability accreditation, designed to help ensure that they deliver environmental benefits, the Low Carbon Vehicle Partnership reports.

Biofuels suppliers will be able to seek certification from one of the seven schemes, or from a similar national scheme. To get approval under any of the schemes, biofuels will have to emit at least 35% less greenhouse gases than fossil fuels. However, the scheme still excludes imported indirect emissions.

Each of the seven schemes will verify where and how biofuels are produced. Biofuels grown on land that used to be forest or wetland will not qualify.

The EU's Energy Commissioner Günther Oettinger said that the approval of the first batch of sustainability schemes for biofuels marked a "big step" towards climate-friendly transport.

Other reactions, however, have been more critical. Many NGOs have criticised the schemes for having a lack of definition, adequate verification procedures and sufficient sensitivity to indirect land use change (ILUC) issues.

The biofuels industry generally welcomed the schemes. " is excellent news for the industry insofar as it provides guarantees on the environmental sustainability of biofuels," said Kåre Riis Nielsen, director of European affairs for Novozymes (quoted by EurActiv), a member of one of the new schemes, the Roundtable for Sustainable Biofuels. "But other regulatory issues such as the impact of indirect land use change should be clarified as soon as possible," he added.

EurActiv also reports that a Commission communication on ILUC has been postponed until after the summer break, but the EU executive's energy department is known to favour a more generous 'greenhouse gas threshold' for measuring the environmental contribution made by biofuels.

Last May, Friends of the Earth and several other environmental NGOs launched a court action against the European Commission, claiming that it had failed in its transparency obligations by withholding information about voluntary certification schemes.

The Commission denied this but four leaked EU-commissioned reports, including one by the Joint Research Centre, questioned the environmental credentials of biofuels.

The seven certification schemes that received approval from the Commission include:

  • German government-financed scheme covering all types of biofuels (ISCC);
  • Roundtable initiative for sugarcane-based biofuels; focus on Brazil (Bonsucro EU); 
  • Roundtable initiative for soy-based biofuels; focus on Argentina and Brazil (RTRS EU RED);
  • Roundtable initiative covering all types of biofuels (RSB EU RED);
  • French industry scheme covering all types of biofuels (2BSvs);
  • Industry scheme for Abengoa covering their supply chain (RSBA), and;
  • Industry scheme for Greenergy covering sugar cane ethanol from Brazil (Greenergy).

Meanwhile, a separate report produced by Purdue University economists for the Farm Foundation policy organisation says that demand for biofuels in the United States is driving this year's high food prices. It predicts that food prices are unlikely to fall back down for another two years.

The report says that US government support for ethanol, including subsidies, has fuelled strong demand for corn over the last five years. A dramatic rise in Chinese imports of soybeans is also putting pressure on prices and supply, the report says.

Since 2005, a growing number of US farmers have switched to corn and soybeans from other crops. Farmers in other countries have also switched to corn but, the report said, the demand kept growing.


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