Official measures for gauging the effect of bio-energy on food prices and the environment have been agreed by the world’s leading economies in a move that could undermine support for some forms of biofuel production.
The move by the Global Bioenergy Partnership (GBEP), a Rome-based group backed by governments and international organisations, is a response to concerns that the rapid growth of biofuels and other forms of bio-energy is causing global hunger and environmental damage.
Some environmentalists argue that private sector standards for responsible biofuel production have already moved much further than the governmental programme, which was launched at the Group of Eight summit in Gleneagles, Scotland, in 2005.
The measures include assessments of the effects on food prices, greenhouse gas emissions, water and land use, for biofuels such as ethanol and biomass such as woodchips used for power generation
The indicators are voluntary, but Michela Morese, manager of the GBEP’s secretariat, said there was an expectation that “each and every developed country should be producing these measures”.
Four developed countries have also offered to back studies in the biggest emerging economies.
The results could be problematic for some of well-developed bio-energy industries, such as ethanol made from corn in the US and wheat in Europe, and bio-diesel made from palm oil from Indonesia.
There is heated debate over the benefit of these biofuels over conventional oil-based fuels when it comes to greenhouse gas emissions. Questions have also been raised over whether they have contributed to food price surges.
GBEP members – 23 countries including leading developed and emerging economies – have agreed on 24 indicators for bio-energy, which will be presented to this week’s G8 summit in Deauville, France.
Corrado Clini, the director-general of the Italian environment ministry who chairs the GBEP, said biofuels could represent a quarter of global fuel supply in the next 25 to 30 years, and to realise that potential, the world had to be sure that they were sustainable.
He said it was important that leading biofuel producers, including the US and Brazil, had signed up to the indicators, and described them as “a great starting point for a global agreement on the world biofuels market”.
Nathanael Greene, of the Natural Resources Defense Council, a US environmental group, said more progress in setting standards had been made by the Roundtable on Sustainable Biofuels, an independent body that includes governments, campaigners and some oil and ethanol producers.