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Title:Certification for biofuel: a means to sustainable development?
Author(s):Gu, Zihui
Advisor(s):Endres, A Bryan
Department / Program:Natural Res & Env Sci
Discipline:Natural Res & Env Sciences
Degree Granting Institution:University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign
Renewable Energy Directive
Sustainable certification
Voluntary certification
Abstract:In recent decades, many countries, including the U.S., have adopted policies to promote greater use of biofuel, with the hope that biofuel can be used to meet the sustainability goal of reducing carbon emission associated with conventional fossil fuel. However, biofuel production, if not implemented with care, can bring about lots of environmental and social problems itself. The growing of feedstock can exacerbate land degradation, water pollution or even cause indirect emission of greenhouse gas. In addition, it is claimed that biofuel demands fueled human rights abuse such as forced labor or economic exploitation. For continued expansion of global biofuels industry, it is critical to address these environmental and social concerns in a timely manner. Biofuel certification is designed as a means to guarantee that fuel crop cultivation and biofuel production adhere to certain sustainability standards. Such programs have been used in many other industries, such as timber, finishing and mining to influence the way in which these businesses are operating and the products are producing. By building trust between the economic operators along the supply chain, certification programs are favored by market players and governments as a means to reduce the negative externalities of biofuel production and promote better practices in biofuel industry. Nevertheless, the effectiveness of these biofuel certification schemes are now facing serious challenges, as studies observed that the sustainability criteria set by some organizations fail to take into account important factors such as food security, land conflicts and labor conditions, so biofuels certified under such programs are not sustainable at all. In addition, some reports revealed that the assurance process of certification, though done by independent certifier/auditor and thus can offer greater level of credibility, was not as transparent and reliable as it claims. This paper discusses the main factors that contributes to the failure of certification schemes in ensuring sustainable development of biofuels: first, the economic operators are reluctant to participate in certification program, as they can gain little if any competitive advantage in the market by being certified. The situation is worse for small farmers in developing countries, because the processes to adapt the sustainability standards could impose high transaction costs on them. In addition, implementation of sustainable criteria and certification system could raise questions as to whether the certification in place would violate WTO trade rules and principles, such as General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (GATT) and Agreement on Technical Barriers to Trade (TBT). Third, the certifications schemes may fail to provide a rigorous approach on some environmental or societal impacts of biofuel production. For example, indirect land-use change is loosely addressed in most certification systems as it is rooted in micro-economic mechanism, making it difficult to measure at the level of individual projects. In addition, due to the lack of harmonization between different schemes, individual or corporations may prone to choose certifications programs with lower requirements, thereby creating a “race to the bottom” phenomenon. Lastly, there is no oversight on third-party certifiers who are integral to the legitimacy of certification. Certification schemes generally involves two processes: establishing comprehensive and measurable sustainability criteria and inspecting whether biofuel production meet these criteria, which are administered by the standard-setter and the certification bodies respectively. Therefore, to ensure sustainable certification are delivering real social, environmental and economic results, it is necessary to ensure the auditors are doing their jobs.
Issue Date:2017-06-20
Rights Information:Copyright 2016 Zihui Gu
Date Available in IDEALS:2017-09-29
Date Deposited:2017-08

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