International biofuel standard launched

The first global sustainability standard for biofuels was issued for consultation in August.1

It was developed by the Roundtable on Sustainable Biofuels - a body hosted at the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology (EFPL) - with a board that includes members of environmental NGOs, the Dutch and Swiss governments and businesses like BP.

The UK and Dutch governments have previously issued domestic sustainability standards (ENDS Report 390, pp 40-41 ), while the European Commission is developing criteria (ENDS Report 397, pp 48-50 ). But this is the first standard aimed at biofuel producers worldwide.

Biofuels should "significantly reduce" greenhouse gas emissions compared with fossil fuels, it says. But it does not yet require a minimum saving. According to Sébastien Haye of the Roundtable’s secretariat, this is because there is "no scientific basis for a cut-off number - it is mostly a political matter". But targets may be set in future, most likely at a regional level, with producers receiving red, yellow or green ratings based on the levels of carbon they save.

The standard requires biofuel producers to avoid negative impacts on biodiversity and areas of high conservation value. It does not address the indirect impacts of biofuels, in which it displaces existing agricultural production. It says there is no scientific consensus on how to quantify land use change or food price increases attributable to biofuels.

The Roundtable is researching this topic and will hold a stakeholder workshop in Brazil in November. It is also consulting on the standard for six months, and expects to issue a redrafted version in April.