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Research Report

A review of environmental issues in the context of biofuel sustainability frameworks

Manuel R. Guariguata
Omar R. Masera
Francis X. Johnson
Graham von Maltitz
Neil Bird
Patricia Tella
René Martínez-Bravo
Copyright Date: Jan. 1, 2011
Pages: 36
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Table of Contents

  1. (pp. 1-2)

    With the rapid growth of biofuel production and consumption, and the proliferation of policy decisions supporting this expansion, especially in Brazil, the EU and USA, concerns about the long-term sustainability of biofuel development are increasing. In particular, the USA and EU have set targets for renewable energy to constitute 20% and 10%, respectively, of all transport fuel by 2020 – targets that will require large amounts of biofuel. This raises questions about the feasibility of biofuel production and its associated environmental, social and economic impacts.

    Some authors argue that the global demand for agro-industrial expansion, including biofuel feedstocks, is likely...

  2. (pp. 3-8)

    Governments across the world have issued laws, regulations and decrees related to biofuel production and consumption, many of which contain concepts and provisions addressing sustainability. However, some laws do little more than simply mention generic sustainability principles or considerations, whereas others incorporate a systematic and continuous effort to improve sustainability frameworks. There are also differences in the way biofuel sustainability frameworks are implemented and enforced, whether through national legislation in the producing country, through voluntary adoption or through a combination of both (Table 1). Such differences and particular combinations of approaches may determine specific outcomes from a governance standpoint (Cashore...

  3. (pp. 9-16)

    Sections 3.1 and 3.2 provide a comparison of the frameworks in terms of key environmental issues: biodiversity, soil, water and environmental impacts, and LUC and related GHG emissions. Tables 2 and 3 provide an overview of the main comparisons, which form the basis for the more detailed analysis in Section 3.3 of identified gaps.

    Biofuel production, transport and consumption has been challenged over its possible negative impacts on soil and water conservation, air quality, biodiversity, and on GHG emissions from direct and indirect LUC. All six frameworks examined in this report include criteria related to areas with significant biodiversity that...

  4. (pp. 17-22)

    As this review demonstrates, biofuel sustainability frameworks have very different formulations of environmental criteria and definitions (e.g. regarding the areas to be protected). However, views differ as to whether a globally harmonised sustainability framework would be broadly applicable or appropriate. On the one hand is the argument that in an era of global trade, the global market will inevitably induce the full emergence of international frameworks and/or certification systems (Scarlat and Dallemand 2011). Kaditi (2009) concludes that because specific frameworks tend to be misused and misinterpreted, an international certification standard is perhaps the only instrument that could make a difference....

  5. (pp. 23-24)

    As Raghu et al. (2011) put it, ‘the emerging biofuel economy is likely to result in the single largest reconfiguration of the agricultural landscape since the advent of industrial agriculture’. In theory, it is the aim of biofuel sustainability frameworks to ensure that such reconfiguration takes place with due consideration of environmental impacts and conservation of forests and other natural ecosystems that provide critical services to human populations. That said, the following points emerge from this review:

    Although the frameworks share broad overall sustainability goals, principles and criteria, they differ greatly in terms of their coverage and how they apply...