The EU system for the certification of sustainable biofuels

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The ‘Renewable Energy Directive’ (RED) requires each Member State to ensure that by 2020 the share of energy from renewable sources used in all forms of transport is at least 10% of the final consumption of energy in transport. In practice, considering the present stage of technical development and possibilities to use alternative energies in transport, the 10% target can be achieved only through a substantial use of biofuels. Biofuels emit fewer greenhouse gases (GHG) than fossil fuels. However, the sustainability of biofuels as a source of renewable energy is compromised by additional emissions due to land use change. To ensure that biofuels placed on the EU market are sustainable, the RED lays down a number of sustainability criteria to be respected by economic operators. Furthermore, only biofuels certified as sustainable can be taken into account by the Member States for the achievement of their 10% transport target. The sustainability of most biofuels placed on the EU market is certified by voluntary schemes recognised by the Commission. The recognition decisions are valid for 5 years and are issued after the positive assessment of the schemes’ certification procedures. The audit addressed the question: ‘Have the Commission and Member States set up a reliable certification system for sustainable biofuels?’ We conclude that, because of weaknesses in the Commission’s recognition procedure and subsequent supervision of voluntary schemes, the EU certification system for the sustainability of biofuels is not fully reliable. We found that the assessments carried out by the Commission as a basis for the recognition of voluntary schemes did not adequately cover some important aspects necessary to ensure the sustainability of biofuels. In particular, the Commission did not require voluntary schemes to verify that the biofuel production they certify does not cause significant risks of negative socio-economic effects, such as land tenure conflicts, forced/child labour, poor working conditions for farmers and dangers to health and safety. Similarly, the impact of indirect land‑use changes (ILUC) on the sustainability of biofuels is not covered by this assessment. Furthermore, the Commission granted recognition decisions to voluntary schemes which did not have appropriate verification procedures to ensure that the origin of biofuels produced from waste was indeed waste, or that, as required by the RED directive, biofuel feedstocks cultivated in the European Union fulfil the EU environmental requirements for agriculture. Some recognised schemes were insufficiently transparent or had governance structures comprising only representatives from few economic operators, thus increasing the risk of conflict of interest and preventing an effective communication with other stakeholders. The Commission does not supervise the functioning of recognised voluntary schemes. Since the recognition decision is issued on the basis of a documentary review of the certification procedures, the lack of supervision means that the Commission cannot obtain assurance that voluntary schemes actually apply the certification standards presented for recognition. Furthermore, the Commission has no means to detect alleged infringements of voluntary schemes’ rules as there is no specific complaint system in place and the Commission does not verify whether complaints directly addressed to voluntary schemes are correctly dealt with by them. As regards the achievement of the 10% transport target, Member States are responsible for ensuring that the statistics concerning sustainable biofuels reported to the Commission are reliable. We found that these statistics might be overestimated. There were also problems with the comparability of data reported by the Member States. Based on the audit observations, the Court formulates the following recommendations: 1) The Commission should carry out a more comprehensive assessment of voluntary schemes to ensure that the schemes assess the extent to which certified biofuels production entails a significant risk of negative socio-economic effects and of ILUC, effectively verify that EU biofuel feedstock producers comply with EU environmental requirements for agriculture and provide sufficient evidence of the origin of waste and residues used for the production of biofuels. 2) The Commission should assess whether the voluntary schemes’ governance reduces the risk of conflict of interests and request the voluntary schemes to ensure transparency. 3) The Commission should supervise recognised voluntary schemes by checking that the schemes’ certification operations comply with the standards presented for recognition and requesting voluntary schemes to set up a transparent complaints system. 4) The Commission should propose that the Member States support their statistics with evidence on the reliability of the biofuels quantities reported. 5) To ensure comparability of the statistics on sustainable biofuels and to increase assurance on the reliability of data on advanced biofuels, the Commission should propose to the Member States a harmonisation of the definition of waste substances.
Renewable Energy, Bioenergy, Transports, Environment, & Rural Development, Sustainable Development Goals, Land Use, Energy Efficiency, EU Law: Legal System & Acts
Country of publication: 
European Union
Publication date: 
Thursday, July 21, 2016
Number of pages: 
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