Critical reflections on the effectiveness of biomass standards to enforce sustainability

Critical reflections on the effectiveness of biomass standards to enforce sustainability

 Beuchelt, Tina (ZEF, Bonn, Germany), Mohr, Anna(ZEF, Bonn, Germany), Virchow, Detlef (ZEF, Bonn, Germany), Schneider, Rafaël (Welthungerhilfe, Bonn, Germany)

With the emerging bio-economies in Europe, more biomass is imported. Sustainability concerns led to the development of EU regulations esp. regarding bioenergy. Hence, private certification standards for biomass proliferate but with major differences regarding environmental and social criteria. The potential of these standards for human development are e.g. income opportunities for farmers and workers or the compliance with human rights and labor standards. To protect the environment, regulations exist to safeguard biodiversity and natural resources. Positive but also negative changes for the environment and livelihoods are observed on and around certified farms in developing countries. While the standards can monitor good agricultural practices, they are limited in controlling complex issues such as food security, transparency/informed consent, biodiversity or land conflicts. The question arises whether standards can satisfy sustainability expectations regarding complex problems and basic human rights and what (governance) arrangements could enhance their effectiveness. In addition, there are implementation problems of the certification system. It must be critically scrutinized what can be verified in the field due to missing documentation, financial reasons, fraud or capacity constraints. The financial dependency between auditors, standard setters and employing enterprises raises questions of the system’s legitimacy. Research institutes and CSOs can play an important role as evaluators regarding the performance and implementation of the standards. Given the positive impact of standards on some criteria, political and societal expectations in private labels are high. Regarding complex problems and settings like in biomass exporting counties with governance, poverty and hunger problems, the overall performance of certification systems is unsatisfactorily. More research is required to solve these complex challenges and increase the performance towards sustainability.

The presentation on “Critical reflections on the effectiveness of biomass standards to enforce sustainability“ was held by Tina Beuchelt at the “27th International Congress for Conservation Biology”, which brings together the international community of conservation professionals to address conservation challenges and present new findings, initiatives, methods, tools and opportunities in conservation science and practice. The conference took place on August 2-6. 2015 in Montpellier, France.

Contact: Dr. Tina Beuchelt, Email: tbeuchel@uni-bonn.de