Clearing the Air: The Meta-Standard Approach to Ensuring Biofuels Environmental and Social Sustainability
48 Pages Posted: 25 Apr 2013
Date Written: April 24, 2010
Despite early promise, the environmental and social sustainability of plant-based biofuels increasingly has come into question. Biofuels standards quickly are transforming at international, national, and state levels from merely carbon consciousness to inclusion of environmental, social and economic criteria in the definition of “sustainable.” The danger going forward is that governments may impose a redundant labyrinth of sustainability regulations that are counterproductive to ambitious incentive programs and of questionable cross-boundary enforceability. As the U.S. and California develop biofuels regulations, policymakers should consider other existing and developing standards in crafting sustainability standards, including the meta-standard approach adopted in the U.K. and by the Roundtable on Sustainable Biofuels, and the EU’s future sustainability scheme. This approach would ameliorate the uncertainty inherent in a drawn-out regulatory process, and may avoid future trade disputes because of the meta-standard’s consideration of third-country regulations. The question remains, however, whether existing U.S. and state agro-environmental standards could qualify under the meta-standard. Despite the EPA’s conclusion to the contrary, existing and developing standards that meet or will likely meet the U.K. meta-standard could be used by U.S. biofuels producers, with small modifications to meet unique U.S. land-use provisions. Although pushback is likely from the conventional agricultural sector, the biofuels industry recognizes that sustainability will ensure the competitiveness critical to a nascent biofuels industry facing volatile and unfavorable market conditions.
Keywords: biofuels, sustainability, standards, meta-standard
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