The sustainability of biomass and bioenergy, biofuels in particular, is addressed in a large variety of research activities, governmental, NGO and private sector initiatives, and – to a limited extent – in national regulation and legislation.
Critical sustainability criteria related to biofuels concern environmental issues, especially life cycle GHG emissions including those from Land Use Change (LUC), biodiversity, soil and water impacts, and social issues such as food security, and land tenure .
Furthermore, socio-economic issues such as rural employment and income, security of energy supply, and trade balances such as expenditures for fuel import and revenues from export, play a role .
The Global Bioenergy Partnership (GBEP) has agreed on comprehensive sustainability indicators for bioenergy on the national level (GBEP 2011), and several biofuel-related voluntary certification schemes address these key issues in their work on the economic operator level (Iriarte et al. 2015a-c; van Dam 2015).
It is increasingly recognised that to avoid “leakage” (i.e. indirect effects from displacing land use), sustainable biomass governance must comprehensively address all biomass uses in a consistent, cross-sectoral approach for the whole bioeconomy .
Implementation and verification of sustainability criteria can be achieved on the national level by applying the GBEP indicators , as several countries have done already, and others are following this lead. The REDII proposal is a step forward towards a consistent and cross-sectoral approach, as it extends its sustainability requirements beyond biofuels to solid and gaseous bioenergy. However, it focuses regulatory limits on GHG emissions and biodiversity only, other relevant issues such as air pollution, soil, and water are proposed to be dealt with through voluntary schemes, and proposes no criteria nor requirements for social impacts. Thus, the REDII proposal takes up only a portion of the GBEP indicators. Still, compared to non-EU countries and regions, the REDII proposed GHG reduction requirement of 70% is higher than most other regions.
On the level of economic operators, comprehensive sustainability certification schemes such as the Roundtable on Sustainable Biomaterials are available, but their voluntary nature is a clear hurdle for mainstreaming as long as little economic benefit is associated with certified products.
Yet, several international supply-chain actors in the bioenergy (e.g. SBP) and bio-based products (e.g. Coca Cola, Neste, Nike) sectors increasingly create a “market pull” for sustainably sourced biomass, and recognition of sustainable biomass feedstocks in public and B2B procurement may well help fostering the broader uptake of sustainability requirements for the whole bioeconomy.References
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