Closing the ‘Sustainability Gap’

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Stepping forward in the fight against indirect land use change effects.

Utrecht/Nürnberg []

Today, Ecofys, WWF and Conservation International jointly announce a major step forward in addressing indirect land use change as they publish the ’Responsible Cultivation Area [RCA] methodology’. Although considerable efforts have already been made in the European Union to ensure a sustainable supply of bioenergy, the challenge of indirect land use change remains. The RCA methodology offers practical and field tested methods to reduce the risk of indirect land use change effects.

Indirect effects of biofuels not regulated

Biofuels that meet strict EU sustainability criteria could play a significant role in decarbonising the road transport sector by delivering a low-carbon alternative to petrol and diesel today. For this purpose biofuels have to be produced sustainably without unwanted, direct or indirect, land use change.

In a 2009 Directive, the EU adopted sustainability criteria for biofuels and bioliquids. These criteria include a minimum for Greenhouse Gas emission reductions compared to fossil fuels. In addition, biofuel and bioliquid production must not lead to unwanted direct land use change, such as the conversion of forests or highly biodiverse grasslands.

A displacement of current agricultural production by a demand of energy crops for biofuels can however cause indirect land use change with negative environmental and social consequences at another site. These indirect land use change effects have not been addressed in the EU so far. “There is a need to close this sustainability gap to ensure a sustainable future for biofuels”, says Imke Luebbeke from the WWF European Policy Office.

Closing the Sustainability Gap with practical guidance

To close this Sustainability Gap, the RCA-methodology recommends three options to supply the additional feedstock demand for bioenergy:

  • expand energy crop production on ‘unused land’ with low biodiversity and low carbon stocks;

  • expand production through yield increases on existing plantations; or

  • expand production through integration of energy crop and food production.

Additional options, such as residues or aquatic biomass, will be considered in future versions of the methodology.

With the above options, the methodology prevents the displacement of existing food production and the associated risk of indirect land use change. “The new methodology contains practical guidance for companies on how to identify responsible production areas with a minimum risk of unwanted direct or indirect land use change. It also offers suggestions for legislators on how to distinguish biofuels with a low risk of indirect land use change”, says Bart Dehue, Managing Consultant at Ecofys.

Working together on a sustainable future for bioenergy

The methodology is the result of a two year process in which Ecofys, WWF and CI combined their expertise in developing the methodology, which has been field tested in both Indonesia and Brazil. The European Commission is currently consulting on the indirect effects of biofuel production and ways to minimise negative indirect land use change. Ecofys, WWF and CI believe the RCA methodology will help policy makers to reduce negative indirect land use change effects from bioenergy production in order to secure a sustainable future for bioenergy.

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