Sustainability in Europe

The EC is revisiting its biomass sustainability criteria after changes in the international policy context on biomass.
By Lisa Gibson | April 29, 2011

In its February 2010 report on sustainability requirements for the use of solid and gaseous biomass sources in electricity, heating and cooling, the European Commission concluded that binding sustainability criteria on the European Union level was unnecessary.

Instead, it outlined a number of areas it deemed important, recommending EU member states develop or update their own sustainability programs. Drawing from the public consultation held before the report, the EC found worth and necessity in addressing sustainability in production; land use, land use change and forestry accounting; life-cycle greenhouse gas (GHG) performance; and energy conversion efficiency. Further, the report recommends that in member states’ sustainability programs, the GHG performance criteria need not be applied to wastes. To stimulate higher energy conversion efficiency, member states should differentiate in favor of installations that achieve high energy conversion efficiencies, the report adds. It also includes recommended scope of application of the criteria, and requirements for reporting and monitoring.

The EC promised in the report to return to the issue and release another report by Dec. 31, examining whether national sustainability schemes have sufficiently and appropriately addressed the issues, and whether EU-level criteria are now necessary. So another consultation period was held Feb. 1 to March 29, welcoming comments from within and outside the EU. The consultation document outlines three areas the EC seeks input from stakeholders on: the extent to which recent developments in the bioenergy sector reflect significant changes compared with the conclusions drawn in the February 2010 report; the extent to which other new policy developments related to the use of biomass have contributed to the sustainable production and consumption of biomass; and the development of sustainability criteria for solid and gaseous biomass at national and/or regional levels and their impacts.

Since the initial report, the European and international policy context on biomass continues to evolve, the consultation states, including in the areas of illegal logging regulation, wood mobilization, forest protection, reducing emissions from deforestation and forest degradation. 

But besides that, biomass use has been increasing in the EU and further growth is anticipated. Bioenergy will play an important role in reaching the EU’s 20 percent by 2020 renewable energy target, the consultation says, and about 10 percent of the total gross final energy consumption in the EU is expected to come from biomass. It adds that in 2020, biomass would contribute to around 6.5 percent of final electricity consumption, 17.5 percent of the heating and cooling consumption, and 9.5 percent of the final transportation consumption. That would more than double bioenergy consumption between 2005 and 2020, with heating and cooling holding the most important rankings.

More than 160 comments were submitted during the 2011 consultation, according to the EC. EU countries with the most comments were the U.K., Belgium, Austria, Germany, Netherlands and Sweden. More than 120 of those comments indicated that imports, mostly of wood chips and pellets from North America and Russia, will increase.

The comments will be crucial in the development of the December report. “If appropriate, this document will discuss the option of adoption of additional measures, including binding EU sustainability criteria,” says Giulio Volpi, of the EC's Renewable Energy Policy office. “The public consultation helps inform the commission’s view on this matter.”