The European Commission has approved the first voluntary schemes that certify the sustainability of biofuels. To qualify for certification by these schemes, biofuels must be environmentally sustainable and lead to greenhouse gas emission savings over the whole production lifecycle. These criteria match two of the ethical principles that the Council recommended should guide biofuels policy development, as set out in its recent report Biofuels: ethical issues.

The Council went further in its recommendations, however, and called for the certification of biofuels to be mandatory and to include social as well as environmental sustainability criteria. The social criteria set out by the Council are:
  • Biofuels development should not be at the expense of people’s essential rights (including access to sufficient food and water, health rights, work rights and land entitlements).

  • Biofuels should develop in accordance with trade principles that are fair and recognise the rights of people to just reward (including labour rights and intellectual property rights).

  • Costs and benefits of biofuels should be distributed in an equitable way.

The Roundtable on Sustainable Biofuels, one of the newly approved voluntary certification schemes, does include protection of human and labour rights. “The standards set out by the Roundtable on Sustainable Biofuels provide a good starting point for the international certification scheme for biofuels we are recommending,” said Professor Joyce Tait, chair of the Council’s Working Party on biofuels.

The Renewable Energy Directive states that the EU must achieve a minimum share of 10 per cent renewable energy in transport by 2020. Where biofuels are used to achieve this target, these must meet a set of sustainability requirements. Companies can demonstrate compliance either through national systems or, now, by joining one of the recognised certification schemes. The European Commission is continuing to assess further schemes that have requested recognition. The Commission, biofuel producers and several European airlines recently committed to producing two million tons of biofuel for aviation by 2020.

Find out about the sustainability certification schemes approved by the European Commission

Find out about the European Commission’s aviation strategy

Find out more about the Council’s work on biofuels