Politics / Law
Biofuels – a step in the right direction
In June, the European Commission presented the first EU certification schemes designed to certify that biofuels marketed in the EU are produced from sustainable resources. The approval of these voluntary schemes is excellent news for the industry, as it provides guarantees on environmental sustainability. However, regulatory uncertainties still remain on ad hoc sustainability issues. These must be resolved quickly to maximise the potential offered by sustainable biofuels.
The seven voluntary certification schemes approved thus far have been introduced to support the implementation of sustainability criteria for biofuels, a requirement of the EU’s Renewable Energy Directive (RED). The schemes provide a practical implementation of the mandatory sustainability criteria, and ensure that only sustainable biofuels will contribute towards the RED target of 10% renewable energy in transport by 2020.
The approval of the first batch of EU certification schemes should help address growing concerns associated with biofuels, and they have the advantage of providing certification that is applicable across the whole European market. Industry has indicated a willingness to demonstrate compliance with the RED sustainability criteria, and the new schemes now make this possible. EU approval is also very important for Member States, which have been waiting to clarify the implementation of certification procedures before embarking on additional efforts to incorporate biofuels. The absence of certification schemes is one reason why growth in European biofuels consumption lost momentum last year.
The certification schemes position Europe as a global front-runner in promoting sustainable biofuels. This will hopefully provide a boost for top-performing products, including advanced biofuels. However, we should not underestimate the efforts required for industry to implement the sustainability criteria. The approval is clearly a step in the right direction, but it won’t solve all of the sustainability issues.
Regulatory issues also still need to be clarified. The debate surrounding indirect Land Use Change (iLUC) has generated a lot of uncertainty, and has delayed investments in advanced biofuels plants. Forming a coherent policy on iLUC is challenging, because its effects are hard to quantify. But to end the market uncertainty, the European Commission must come to a conclusion soon. Any decision should be both easily implementable and stable. It should also promote the best performing biofuels available and the fast deployment of advanced biofuels. Only when this regulatory gap is closed will Europe start to reap the benefits sustainable biofuels can bring.
Europe should also be looking at the role advanced biofuels can play beyond the transport fuel sector. Biocomponents are the only sustainable alternative to fossil fuels in the production of chemicals, plastics or textiles. Advanced biofuels deployment is therefore a first step towards a sustainable bio-based society.