Not too long ago policy-makers, scientists, and environmentalists saw biofuels as a significant tool to provide sustainable energy to the world. However, as it became clear that biofuels were not only connected to deforestation, pollution, and greenhouse gas emissions (sometimes exceeding fossil fuels), but also competed with the global food supply and water sources, biofuels no longer seemed like a silver bullet, but a new problem facing the environment and the poor. Still, biofuels have persisted not so much due to perceived environmental benefits, but to entrenched interests by the big agricultural industry, lobbyists, and governments. However, the Roundtable on Sustainable Biofuels (RSB) hopes to begin certifying environmentally friendly biofuels that don’t compete with food production or water sources.
Yesterday at the World Biofuels Market 2011 in Roterdam, RSB, announced the creation of an ambitious new certification system that according to a press release would ensure certified biofuels would meet tough environmental and social standards.
“The RSB standard is the result of a 4 year effort building a global consensus of over 120 organizations from farmers and biofuel producers to refiners, regulators, civil society and inter-governmental organizations,” said Juan Marco Alvarez, Director of the Economy and Environmental Governance group at the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN).
Research will begin next month and last for two years on a number of continents. The RSB is partnering with big airline-builder, Boeing, on the initiative.
“Having harmonized standards for sustainable biofuel development is crucial,” says Bill Glover, Boeing’s vice-president of environmental and aviation policy. “Our industry needs these fuel sources and this consortium will help ensure we have a transparent way to collaborate among certification processes that guide us towards a more sustainable future.”
The RSB will have its work cut out for them. This week, a study found that greenhouse gas emissions from growing jatropha were two-and-a-half to six times higher than fossil fuel equivalents. Jatropha biofuels plantations have also sparked social problems in Kenya. The plant is one of the biofuels that has been field tested by the aviation industry.
“Biofuels are far from the miracle climate cure they were thought to be,” “Like most other biofuels, jatropha could actually end up increasing carbon emissions,” Tim Rice, a biofuels expert with ActionAid that participated in the study, told the Telegraph.
The RSP plans to certify biofuels only if they reduce greenhouse gas emissions, do not impact food crops, do not compete with water, and don’t result in habitat destruction or other land use impacts.
For those skeptical of biofuels production, the question remains: is this possible?
Prairie grass-based biofuels could meet half current fuel demand without affecting forests, food
(01/26/2011) Biofuels could meet up to half the world’s current fuel consumption without affecting food production or forests, argues a study published last month in the journal Environmental Science and Technology.
EU’s biofuels target driving land grabs in Africa, says group
(08/30/2010) The European Union’s renewable fuels target is driving land grabs in Africa that threaten the environment and local communities, claims a new report from Friends of the Earth (FOE).
EU mandates biofuel environmental standards to protect forests, wetlands
(06/10/2010) The E.U. today moved to establish environmental standards for biofuels used in Europe, requiring biofuels to deliver “substantial reductions” in greenhouse gas emissions and not result in conversion of forests or wetlands, according to a statement from the European Commission.