EU co-regulation and the use of private sustainability certification schemes
The co-regulation process in the EU is rather new. It started in 2011, and has undergone since then a steep learning curve. By November 2012, thirteen private certification schemes have been recognised by the European Commission (EC). The scope and assurance level of these recognised certification schemes is heterogeneous. Issues like accreditation, sampling requirements, level of verification, stakeholder consultation, complaints procedures, transparency and recognition of other recognised schemes, are not mentioned in the RED as requirements for recognition, or are only generally defined. This results in a variation in assurance requirements between schemes for those points where the RED lacks guidance or leaves room for interpretation.
The EC is required under this co-regulation process, to assess the effectiveness and operation of recognised private sustainability certification schemes. This assessment gains importance as the share of certified biofuels used in the EU is constantly increasing along with national implementations of RED in Member States. Recent research done by SQ Consult shows that by the end of 2012, about 81% of certificates were issued within the EU where sustainability risk can be considered low; about 14% of the certificates were issued outside the EU in countries with a sustainability risk low to medium, and 5% of certificates were issued in countries with higher risk of poor sustainable practices. This suggests that, while the current co-regulation process seems in general effective to assure sustainability, it may be challenged in the future when more biofuels originate from countries with higher risk of poor sustainability practices.
In the context of higher risk countries supplying biofuel or biofuel feedstock to the EU, certification schemes with a narrow scope of sustainability requirements, and with lower levels of assurance, have a higher probability of not ensuring that sustainability claims are properly fulfilled. Besides this, cross-recognition of certificates may ‘greenwash’ biofuels originated in high risk countries. The assessment of the effectiveness of the recognised certification schemes should therefore include as well a revision of the recognition procedure. These assessments may result in the need to set corrective measures, such as possibly more defined and stricter criteria for the recognition of certification schemes, especially with respect to their level of assurance.
For robustness of the co-regulation process, this assessment could be complemented with an evaluation of the status and robustness of the RED implementation at Member State level. The latest draft of the Renewable Energy Progress Report published by the EC explains that particularly in the larger Member States representing the bulk of biofuel consumption, the implemented national sustainability framework for biofuels works effectively. However, in some Member States there is still scope for improvements.