Legitimacy, Innovation and Harmonization: Precursors to Operationalizing Biofuels Sustainability Standards
37 S. Ill. Univ. L. R. 1 (2012)
52 Pages Posted: 16 Nov 2012 Last revised: 14 Feb 2013
Date Written: November 15, 2012
How to balance land uses to sustainably feed, clothe and power a burgeoning population aspiring to western lifestyles will be one of, if not the most profound challenges to policymakers in the 21st century. And, climate change’s unpredictable effects on natural systems will exacerbate already complex, uncertain and contentious land use decisionmaking. While biomass-based energy policies gained momentum throughout the 2000s as one way to reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, assumptions about biofuels’ environmental and societal benefits are beginning to come under closer scrutiny. In response, public laws have incorporated varying forms of sustainability considerations. Many private standards have emerged, however, to fill real and perceived gaps in, or in some cases anticipate, future regulatory requirements demanding increased sustainability. Aspirations aside, the critical question moving forward will be how to operationalize sustainability regimes to address governmental and societal concerns. Agricultural biomass sustainability regimes represent a particularly ground-breaking paradigm shift within a traditional commodity-crop landscape that historically has not been subject to widespread certification to specialized sustainability metrics. Although certification is not new to the forestry sector, energy biomass presents unique questions surrounding increased harvests, novel species and practices, and complex carbon accounting. With these new landscape dynamics in mind, and assuming regulatory drivers will encourage operators to seek certification, I posit that private and public actors must successfully navigate three preconditions of operationalization in order to ultimately achieve the sustainability goals contained in any sustainability standard: (1) ensuring standards organizations are built on good governance principles; (2) shifting the paradigm within conventional agricultural landscapes to enable technological and institutional innovations for increased sustainability; and, (3) standards harmonization to facilitate international markets. I conclude that each in and of itself presents great challenges at all levels in transitioning from theoretical to operational standards.
Keywords: biofuels, standards, sustainability
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