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European Commission Sets Up System for Certifying Sustainable Biofuels

The European Commission is encouraging industry, governments and NGOs to set up certification schemes for all types of biofuels, including those imported into the EU and laid down what the schemes must do to be recognized by the Commission. This is intended to help implement the EU’s requirements that biofuels must deliver substantial reductions in greenhouse gas emissions and should not come from forests, wetlands and nature protection areas.

The rules for certification schemes are part of a set of guidelines explaining how the Renewable Energy Directive, coming into effect in December 2010, should be implemented.

In the years to come, biofuels are the main alternative to petrol and diesel used in transport, which produces more than 20% of the greenhouse gas emissions in the European Union. We have to ensure that the biofuels used are also sustainable. Our certification scheme is the most stringent in the world and will make sure that our biofuels meet the highest environmental standards. It will have positive effects also on other regions as it covers imported biofuels.

—Günther Oettinger, Commissioner responsible for Energy

The package adopted consists of two Communications and a Decision which should help businesses and Member States to implement the Renewable Energy Directive. They focus especially on the sustainability criteria for biofuels and what is to be done in order to control that only sustainable biofuels are used.

  • Sustainable Biofuel Certificates. The Commission encourages industry, governments and NGOs to set up "voluntary schemes" to certify biofuel sustainability – and explains the standards these must meet to gain EU recognition. One of the main criteria is that they have independent auditors which check the whole production chain, from the farmer and the mill, via the trader, to the fuel supplier who delivers petrol or diesel to the filling station. The Communication sets standards requiring this auditing to be reliable and fraud-resistant.

  • Protecting untouched nature. The Communication explains that biofuels should not be made from raw materials from tropical forests or recently deforested areas, drained peatland, wetland or highly biodiverse areas—and how this should be assessed. It makes it clear that the conversion of a forest to a palm oil plantation would fall foul of the sustainability requirements.

  • Promote only biofuels with high greenhouse gas savings. The Communication reiterates that Member States have to meet binding, national targets for renewable energy and that only those biofuels with high greenhouse gas savings count for the national targets, explaining also how this is calculated. Biofuels must deliver greenhouse gas savings of at least 35% compared to fossil fuels, rising to 50% in 2017 and to 60%, for biofuels from new plants, in 2018.

How would the certificate work in practice? The EC suggests as an example a UK fuel supplier who is using ethanol from Brazil. The supplier has to notify the quantities of biofuels to the UK authorities. To show that they are sustainable according to the Directive, the supplier can join a voluntary scheme.

The fuel supplier has to make sure that throughout the production chain all records are kept, by the trader he or she buys the biofuels from, by the ethanol plant the trader buys the ethanol from, and by the farmer who supplies the ethanol plant with sugar cane. This control is done before the company is joining the scheme and at least once a year thereafter.

The auditing is done as in the financial sector—the auditor checks all the paper and inspects a sample of the farmers, mills and traders. The auditor will check whether the land where the feedstock for the ethanol is produced has been indeed farm land before and not a tropical forest.

Background. The 2009 Renewable Energy Directive sets an overall EU target of 20% renewable energy in total energy consumption by 2020, translated into binding national targets for Member States. Every Member States has to reach individual national targets for the overall share of renewable energy. In addition, in the transport sector, all Member States have to reach the same target of a 10% share of renewable energy.

Renewables include solid biomass, wind, solar energy and hydro power as well as biofuels. Only biofuels that meet the EU’s sustainability requirements can count towards the targets in the Directive.




Maybe some day the U.S. will actually have a real energy policy.


Climate change is a global problem, and yet each one of us has the power to make a difference. Even small changes in our daily behaviour can help prevent greenhouse gas emissions without affecting our quality of life. In fact, they can help save us money!

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