"The problem with not having criteria is very large. It's very easy for people to source non-sustainable biomass, which basically damages the environment and potentially damages human health," said Johnson, who is also editor of the scholarly journal Environmental Impact Assessment Review.
The consultant argued that rejecting environmental safeguards would damage the public perception of the whole biofuels industry, which has been boosted by its potential to cut greenhouse gas emissions.
"[T]here are some people who are just riding another boom wave, and it really has nothing to do with protecting the environment," he lamented.
The EU is undecided on the issue, and divisions have even emerged within the European Commission.
The EU executive's transport and energy department recommends that sustainability criteria for the use of biomass should not be established, but the environment department would like to see such safeguards strictly applied.
"I think the energy people, transport people, to be fair to them, are defending their corner. They want to see less dependence on fossil fuel imports, they want to see less dependence on fossil fuels in general," Johnson commented. "[T]he environment people are playing it straight. They're trying to protect the environment."
The consultant added that air pollutants like black carbon emitted in the process of burning biomass constitute a real problem. He pointed out that the latest science puts the impact of black carbon on global warming somewhere between 15% and 20%.
"It's more of a serious issue in the developing world where you have these massive smog problems and literally people are dying because of these horrible temperature inversions where you get all the smog," Johnson said. "But nonetheless it's an issue in the developed world as well."
Johnson's latest project tries to tackle the problem by creating a black carbon reduction mechanism. He explained that this would work in the same manner as the Kyoto Protocol's Clean Development Mechanism (CDM), where developed countries earn carbon credits by financing carbon-cutting projects in the developing world.
Moreover, the programme would be directed specifically at the world's poor, who could use the money to upgrade cooking equipment that damages both their health and the climate, he explained.
Ideally, the mechanism could eventually function under the auspices of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) like the CDM, Johnson envisioned.