Sustainability Criteria for Biofuels Up and Running

4 April 2011

The Roundtable on Sustainable Biofuels has launched a set of comprehensive sustainability criteria - the "RSB Certification System." Biofuels producers that adhere to these criteria are able to show buyers and regulators that their product has been obtained without harming the environment or violating human rights. The criteria apply along the full value chain, allowing traceability from production through feedstock to the point of consumption.

Biofuels, once considered a silver bullet for tackling climate change and agricultural overproduction, have come under fierce criticism over the past few years (see Bridges Trade BioRes, 8 November 2010). While their use is mandated both in the EU and US, they need to comply with certain criteria in order to be used to fulfill the mandates. In the EU, these criteria are quite comprehensive. The certification, including auditing, will be handled by private entities.

The Roundtable on Sustainable Biofuels is a multi-stakeholder forum including 120 environmental organisations, biofuels producers, governments and other interested parties. This group has worked out a comprehensive set of environmental and social criteria that are in line with EU sustainability criteria. Some - such as human rights issues, which are not among the EU criteria - even go beyond them on several accounts.

"The RSB has elevated the role of social and environmental safeguards, emphasising the critical aspects of sustainability in the biofuels sector," said Juan Marco Alvarez, Director of the Economy and Environmental Governance group at the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN). "It is now ready to start making it achievable."

The new criteria were launched on 23 March at the World Biofuels Markets, which is the largest annual event on biofuels, drawing large numbers of actors in the sector. The criteria are so called voluntary private sector standards, although companies that adhere to them would also be in compliance with mandatory EU sustainability criteria once the EU officially recognises the RSB Certification System. Voluntary standards have been heavily debated at the WTO over the last few years, as some Members see them as an emerging form of "green protectionism."

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