BONN, Germany (CN) – The European Union said it certified seven voluntary biofuel schemes that use the “highest sustainability standards in the world,” rejecting biofuels that have been grown on carbon-storing tropical rainforest and peatlands.
Biofuels, on the one hand, present a potential solution to unsustainable burning of fossil fuels. But where rainforest slash-and-burn gives way to oil palm plantations, for example in Malaysia and Indonesia, biofuel is often not considered an environmentally friendly alternative.
In an effort to use 10 percent renewable energy in transport by 2020, the EU set biofuels in its sights. Biofuel, or combustibles made from plants, is controversial in part because some argue that it takes more energy to produce than the net energy gained when burned.
And, in countries such as Colombia, development of biofuels – including palm oil plantations – can involve serious human rights concerns, as local people have been violently displaced by paramilitary groups seeking to cash in on the rush.
The EU this week officially recognized seven voluntary schemes, including one by the German government and a Brazil-focused sugarcane initiative.
In Brazil, growing sugarcane for ethanol production has been criticized as depleting water reserves and biological diversity, along with exploiting local workers.
The Bonsucro production standard, finalized this past March, developed principles and criteria including a commitment to rule of law, as well as to human rights, labor and biodiversity standards. The nonprofit consortium is registered in the United Kingdom.
Voluntary sustainability criteria for private companies and institutions should reflect a minimum 35 percent of greenhouse-gas savings over the entire production chain, and include an independent auditor that spot checks farmers, mills and traders, the European Commission asserts.
Voluntary schemes are often criticized for lacking enforcement mechanisms. Schemes are approved for five years, after which time they must reapply for certification. The executive body the European Commission approved seven of 25 total schemes that applied for recognition.