Biofuels: ethical issues


Published 12/04/2011

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Exhaust emmissions

Biofuels development should not be at the expense of people’s essential rights (including access to sufficient food and water, health rights, work rights and land entitlements).

Target-based policies for biofuels have in the past been criticised for contributing to human rights violations. They have encouraged producers to scale up production as quickly and easily as possible in order to meet the targets, which has sometimes meant developing the biofuels in countries with less strict regulations.

In recent years there has been some improvement in the human rights protections offered by European policy. For example the Renewable Energy Directive has incorporated a commitment to monitoring human rights, and the UK has developed social sustainability standards, but these are not widely enforced outside of Europe.

A promising global initiative is the Roundtable on Sustainable Biofuels – a voluntary organisation representing farmers, industry, campaigners and governments. The Roundtable sets out standards on human rights and environmental sustainability across the life cycle of the biofuel.

We conclude

Biofuels policy targets should set out to avoid incentivising human rights abuses. The European Commission should set up monitoring systems so that sanctions can quickly be put in place if human rights abuses are detected.

A compulsory certification scheme should be set up to ensure that all biofuels produced in or imported into the EU meet human rights standards, similar to the voluntary scheme developed by the Roundtable on Sustainable Biofuels.