Environmental Impact Assessments: Suitable for supporting assessments of biofuel sustainability?
The European Union requires that 10% of the energy in the transport sector shall come from renewable sources by 2020. In addition, biofuels used for transport need to fulfill certain sustainability requirements set out in the Renewable Energy Directive (RED). To meet these requirements, the EU will need to produce and import large amounts of sustainable biofuels. Therefore, there is a need for ways to verify the sustainability of imported biofuels, so that unsustainable biofuels can be avoided. One strategy may involve analyzing Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) reports (EIRs) conducted for specific biofuel projects. For EIRs to be useful as such information sources they need to be sufficiently comprehensive in relation to the RED but also sufficiently reliable.
In this study, 19 biofuel project EIRs are analyzed with respect to how they cover the RED sustainability considerations. In addition, EIA legislation, requirements, quality, and enforcement are discussed to determine not only whether EIRs can be sufficiently comprehensive, but also sufficiently reliable for supporting information to studies intended to assess the sustainability of biofuels, from an RED perspective.
Notable differences between EIRs for different types of projects were found. EIRs for projects including both plantation establishment and the construction of a biofuel plant had better RED coverage than EIRs for projects including either the plantations or the biofuel plant. As might be expected, EIAs for “plantation projects” generally leave out features related to biofuel processing, and EIAs for “biofuel plant” projects generally leave out features related to feedstock production.
In general, EIA legislation is insufficient and most target countries seem to have rather low potential to enforce legislation. Several additional EIA-related problems need to be overcome in order for EIRs to be regarded as sufficiently reliable information tools.
Renewable Energy Directive