Closing the ‘Sustainability Gap’: Stepping forward in the fight against indirect land use change effects

Posted on 05 October 2010

Today, Ecofys, WWF and Conservation International jointly announce a major step forward in addressing indirect land use change as they publish the ’Responsible Cultivation Area [RCA] methodology’.
Utrecht/Nürnberg/Brussels - Today, Ecofys, WWF and Conservation International jointly announce a major step forward in addressing indirect land use change as they publish the ’Responsible Cultivation Area [RCA] methodology’. Although considerable efforts have already been made in the European Union to ensure a sustainable supply of bioenergy, the challenge of indirect land use change remains.  The RCA methodology offers practical and field tested methods to reduce the risk of indirect land use change effects.

Indirect effects of biofuels not regulated
Biofuels that meet strict EU sustainability criteria could play a significant role in decarbonising the road transport sector by delivering a low-carbon alternative to petrol and diesel today. For this purpose biofuels have to be produced sustainably without unwanted, direct or indirect, land use change.

In a 2009 Directive, the EU adopted sustainability criteria for biofuels and bioliquids. These criteria include a minimum for Greenhouse Gas emission reductions compared to fossil fuels.  In addition, biofuel and bioliquid production may not lead to unwanted direct land use change, such as the conversion of forests or highly biodiverse grasslands.

A displacement of current agricultural production by a demand of energy crops for biofuels can however cause indirect land use change with negative environmental and social consequences at another site. These indirect land use change effects have not been addressed in the EU so far.

“There is a need to close this sustainability gap to ensure a sustainable future for biofuels”, says Imke Luebbeke from the WWF European Policy Office.   

Closing the Sustainability Gap with practical guidance
To close this Sustainability Gap, the RCA-methodology recommends three options to supply the additional feedstock demand for bioenergy:

• expand energy crop production on ‘unused land’ with low biodiversity and low carbon stocks;
• expand production through yield increases on existing plantations; or
• expand production through integration of energy crop and food production.

Additional options, such as residues or aquatic biomass, will be considered in future versions of the methodology.

With the above options, the methodology prevents the displacement of existing food production and the associated risk of indirect land use change.

“The new methodology contains practical guidance for companies on how to identify responsible production areas with a minimum risk of unwanted direct or indirect land use change. It also offers suggestions for legislators on how to distinguish biofuels with a low risk of indirect land use change”, says Bart Dehue, Managing Consultant at Ecofys.

Working together on a sustainable future for bioenergy
The methodology is the result of a two year process in which Ecofys, WWF and CI combined their expertise in developing the methodology, which has been field tested in both Indonesia and Brazil. The European Commission is currently consulting on the indirect effects of biofuel production and ways to minimise negative indirect land use change. Ecofys, WWF and CI believe the RCA methodology will help policy makers to reduce negative indirect land use change effects from bioenergy production in order to secure a sustainable future for bioenergy.

Notes to Editors:
-    The ‘Responsible Cultivation Areas’ methodology in this report was developed by Ecofys, Conservation International and WWF International with support and contributions from the UK Renewable Fuels Agency, BP, Neste Oil, the David and Lucile Packard Foundation and Shell.

For further information:
Alexandra Bennett, Communications Director, WWF European Policy Office
Tel: + 32 2 740 09 25

The RSB seeks to raise awareness as to which biofuels are suitable for exploitation for energy production.
Agricultural fields at the foot of the Jura. In the foreground field of Chinese silvergrass (Miscanthus sinensis) which is grown as a biomass product. The production of biomass for energetic use is a good possibility to solve agricultural, environmental and regional political problems. Etoy, La Côte, Switzerland
© Michèle Dépraz / WWF CANON