Sustainability Criteria and Certification of Biomass – greenwashing destruction in pursuit of profit

Joint press release from: Biofuelwatch, Corporate Europe Observatory, Econexus, Grupo Reflexion Rural, NOAH (Friends of the Earth Denmark)

Sustainability Criteria and Certification of Biomass – greenwashing destruction in pursuit of

18th March 2008: A meeting is being held today at the European Commission to discuss a report by
the Biomass Technology Group for DG Transport and Energy entitled: Sustainability Criteria and
Certification Systems for Biomass Production.

The EU says that it seeks energy security and wants to fulfil EU obligations under the Kyoto
Protocol. It asserts that biomass for energy can play a key role in this. It also acknowledges that
while part of this biomass will be produced in the EU, another part will be produced outside, and
concludes that “energy security” will arise from having a larger number of different suppliers than
with fossil fuel. It has also made its 10% target for liquid biofuels (agrofuels) conditional on having
certification in place.

The Biomass Technology Group asserts that the establishment of certification systems can be left to
the market. It favours voluntary certification systems, saying that WTO difficulties can be avoided
and other goals regarding environmental and social impacts can be achieved more readily under
voluntary systems.

Current initiatives such as The Forest Stewardship Council (FSC), Roundtable on Sustainable Palm
Oil (RSPO), The Round Table on Responsible Soy (RTRS) and the Better Sugarcane Initiative
(BSI) are meant to form the basis of a credible system. However, the FSC has been criticised for
being heavily dominated by economic interests, for certifying the completely unsustainable
industrial logging of ancient forests and large monoculture tree plantations with severe social and
environmental impacts. The Biomass Technology Group acknowledges that RTRS and BSI will not
have a complete set of criteria and indicators ready for some time. The RTRS has provoked a lot of
resistance in producer countries of soy and its plans for a big meeting in Buenos Aires in April 2008
are already drawing strong criticism from around the world. In case of the BSI it is entirely unclear
what legitimacy this project would have to develop world-wide standards for sugar cane production.
There are no criteria in place for crops already in use for agrofuels such as wheat, sugarbeet,
rapeseed or sunflower.

Almuth Ernsting of Biofuelwatch says: “Certifying biomass production is always assumed to be
possible. No-one ever seems to ask whether it really is feasible to develop a system that can address
the issues. We do not believe that it is. We also consider that the push for agrofuels is an extremely
dangerous development that threatens food sovereignty, small scale agricultural systems, water, soil
and forests. We believe that far from countering climate change they will increase it. They
contribute to rising food prices, causing hunger. Certification cannot address these issues.”
The World Trade Organisation (WTO) is regularly cited by governments and interest groups to
block attempts to develop mandatory certification systems. It only allows voluntary systems under
conditions of free competition and also only if no measures are taken to inhibit trade in non-
certified goods. Furthermore it seems clear that while some environmental issues may be
acceptable, social issues, labour standards and even human rights are inadmissible under WTO
rules. This shows the true and perverse nature of the WTO, even preventing its members from
setting standards for policy-promoted products.

The BTG report admits that developing criteria is challenging. It notes that if only the EU has
standards, exporters will simply shift to markets that do not certify. It also admits (crucially) that
certification cannot help to avoid indirect adverse effects, but proposes bilateral agreements as a
solution to this problem..

Most dangerously, it recommends looking at the CDM as a model, where the producer country has
to confirm that CDM projects contribute to sustainable development. There is already plenty of
evidence to show that such a system is open to all kinds of abuse and is even worse than
certification systems.

Helena Paul from Econxus comments: “It is plain that the EU hopes to use certification to reduce
opposition to the development of agrofuels. This is not acceptable. We must not allow agribusiness,
the car industry and big oil to dictate more fake solutions. We have to face the fact that we cannot
continue with business as usual. We need radical energy efficiency. Above all, we need to consume
less. This gives us a great opportunity to transform our societies and make them more sustainable
for the future.”

1. The report by the Biomass Technology Group for DG Tren: Sustainability Criteria and
Certification Systems for Biomass Production was published in February 2008. More details can be
found at The company has been involved in the conversion of biomass to fuels
for 25 years and has a research and development arm and a consultancy arm, which won the
contract to produce this report in September 2007.

2. The Forest Stewardship Council was founded to promote “responsible stewardship of the world’s
forests”. First discussed in 1990, it was founded in 1993 after a long process of discussion and the
first certificate was granted in the same year. Details of its certification processes can be found at:

3. The idea of founding a Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil was first discussed in 2001 and the
inaugural meeting took place in 2003. 47 organisations including producers, processors, consumer
goods manufacturers, retailers, banks and NGOs had signed its statement of intent by the end of

4. The Round Table on Responsible Soy was founded in 2006. Its interim executive board consists
of retailers, producers, NGOs and banks. Large companies that have become members in the last
year include BP, Shell, Archer Daniels Midland, Carrefour and Cargill. A letter repudiating the
Round Table’s upcoming meeting (April 2008) can be found at The Round Table website can be found at

5. The Better Sugarcane Initiative includes retailers, investors, traders, producers and NGOs. It aims
to develop principles, criteria and indicators for sugar production. Members include representatives
from Tate and Lyle, Coca Cola, Cadbury Schweppes, Cargill, Bacardi Martini and Shell
Downstream. More information at