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Best Practices voor een duurzame toekomst
26 januari 2008

Dutch list classifies biomass as good or bad

According to the Society for Nature and Environment and twelve provincial federations of environmental groups, most biomass leads to the deforestation of old forests in the tropics, drives up food prices and, in some cases, brings about virtually no reduction in greenhouse emissions at all. Rape seed, soy, palm oil, sunflower oil, corn, beet and dung are all labelled as ‘bad’ biomass. Good examples, in their view, include residual streams from the food, agriculture and industry sectors and regional biomass such as reed, poplar and willow. This means, the organizations conclude, that there are plenty of possibilities for bio-electricity but not for bio fuels for transport. Consequently, they call on the government to limit subsidies to real sustainable biomass and to revise its current policy which states that by 2010 at least 5.75% of petrol and diesel must come from biofuels.

Although Minister Van der Hoeven seemed pleased with the report from the Dutch organizations - which was partly funded by a grant from her own ministry - she declined any assurance that she would take up the recommendations in the new grant scheme for green electricity (SDE). In her view the distinction between good and bad biomass will lead to a certification scheme which creates clarity in the market. The environmental organizations agree with this approach but they claim that such a certification scheme will take years to develop. Meanwhile the good/bad list can serve as a useful instrument.

Until recently biofuels seemed the perfect get-out-of-jail free card to cut carbon emissions. But the chorus of critics is rapidly swelling. Among them are heavyweights like the OECD, the Royal Society and Oxfam International.

The European Union is also working towards achieving a 5.75% share for biofuels in transport by 2010. But recenlty EU Environment Commissioner Stavros Dimas told the BBC it would be better to miss the target than achieve it by harming the poor or damaging the environment. “We have seen that the environmental problems caused by bio fuels and also the social problems are bigger than we had originally thought. So we have to move very carefully”, Mr Dimas said. “We have to have criteria for sustainability, including social and environmental issues, because there are some benefits from bio fuels.”

P+ webtip: Society for Nature and EnvironmentP+ webtip: Good and bad biomass (DUTCH)