Sustainability criteria for biomass

Sustainability criteria for biomass

The EU Directive on the promotion of the use of energy from renewable sources (the Renewable Energy Directive) sets a 20% mandatory target for the use of energy from renewable sources by 2020. Increased use of biomass has potentially wide-ranging impacts on biodiversity as it includes the: ‘biodegradable fraction of products, waste and residues from biological origin from agriculture, forestry and related industries including fisheries and aquaculture, as well as the biodegradable fraction of industrial and municipal waste’.

It is likely that Member States will aim for the use of biomass for heat and electricity to make a significant contribution to meeting these targets. Two workshops held in Cambridge and Edinburgh during July and August 2009 developed a set of principles for sustainability of biomass for heat and power for policy and decision makers. These were endorsed by CCI organisations, WWF, the Forestry Commission and the Environment Agency and sent as recommendations to the UK givernment’s Department of Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) and to the Department of Energy and Climate Change (DECC) to inform the development of sustainability schemes for biomass.

Project Aims

The main aim of this project was to review and explore the sustainability issues associated with the energy uses of biomass for heat and power, particularly those related to land use and biodiversity. It also aimed to make recommendations to the European Commission and to Member States to inform development of a sustainability scheme for biomass.

Key Activities

  • A workshop in Cambridge on the 15th July 2009 developed a set of principles for the sustainability criteria of biomass for heat and power. A follow-on workshop in Edinburgh at the Forestry Commission on 11th August 2009 continued the discussion, and both workshops contributed to the recommendations CCI sent to the UK government (Defra and DECC).

Conservation Impact

The recommendations to policy makers from this project persuaded UK government to adopt a position in favour of compulsory sustainability standards for biomass for heat and power. They were unfortunately unable to achieve this in EU negotiations, but reported that the input from CCI had still been extremely valuable. The work is currently informing responses a current consultation on voluntary standards.  In addition, the work highlighted key shortcomings in the way carbon emissions from use of biomass is currently calculated, and additional funds were raised by BirdLife to explore this further.


  1. A background paper was prepared for the two meetings and a report together with a proposed framework for decision makers was produced was sent to UK policy makers.  These are not publically available but for more information, please contact the project leads.

CCI partners Involved

Other Organisations Involved


Banner image:
®DS, via Flickr