The Commission today (10 June) adopted a package on the sustainability criteria of biofuels.
The package, which includes two communications and one decision, aims to ensure that biofuels produced and imported into the EU are produced without damaging the environment.
Only biofuels that meet the conditions set out in the package will count towards the targets that each of the EU's 27 member states has to reach by 2020. Under the 2009 Renewable Energy Directive, companies are eligible for national support such as tax relief.
No sanctions or bans on the use of biofuels that do not carry a sustainable label are foreseen.
Sustainable biofuel certificate
The Commission paper explains what industry, governments or NGOs need to do to get a sustainable label for their biofuel use.
Issues addressed include standards to be met both in the EU and third countries, as well as independent auditing of the whole of the scheme's production chain.
A Brazilian sugarcane farmer, for example, must prove that his land was not converted from tropical forest to farmland since January 2008, and producers, traders and importers also need to prove a number of criteria related to farming, production, transport and distribution.
But in the end, the burden of proof of sustainability will be on big companies that import biofuels like BP or Shell, Commission officials explained.
The scheme, subject to annual auditing, will be approved by the Commission for a five-year period, but can be "de-recognised at any moment" if it fails to deliver, a Commission official said.
Schemes can be submitted for approval as of today (10 June).
The EU executive hopes to have several schemes up and running by the December deadline for the EU-27 to comply with the new Renewables Directive, which requires greenhouse gas savings from biofuels to reach a minimum of 35%.
The EU executive's document also sets out which types of land should not be used to produce biofuels. These include natural forest, protected areas, wetlands, peatlands and highly biodiverse areas.
The EU also explicitly demands that forest must not be converted into palm oil plantations and stipulates that biofuel from such production chains does not fulfil EU sustainability requirements.
In addition, only biofuels that produce 35% greenhouse gas emission reductions fulfil the EU sustainability criteria. Meanwhile, biofuels produced by installations that were in operation on 23 January 2008 are exempted from complying with the greenhouse gas saving criterion until 1 April 2013.
Indirect land use change (ILUC)
The certification scheme and sustainability criteria do not take into account indirect land use change (ILUC).
An additional criteria for ILUC could be added to the sustainability schemes later on once the Commission has finished work on the matter, officials said.
They also stressed that recent EU studies show that biofuels are producing greenhouse gas emission savings, contrary to mainstream press reports.