Dutch government to discuss biomass sustainability Jan. 15

By Erin Voegele | January 14, 2015

A report recently filed with the USDA Foreign Agricultural Service Global Information Network highlights a pending biomass sustainability proposal in the Netherlands. According to the report, the Dutch government is scheduled to discuss the proposal on Jan. 15.

The GAIN report explains that in December, the Dutch energy sector and nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) agreed on new sustainability criteria for biomass, but were unable to agree on a timeline for compliance. Since a comprehensive agreement was not made, the report indicates the Dutch government is now responsible for making a decision.

According to the report, the Dutch government, private sector and NGOs signed the Dutch Energy Accord in September. That agreement capped subsidized cofiring of pellets at 3.5 million metric tons. The accord also indicated biomass would be subject to sustainability criteria, which was to be finalized by the close of 2014. In mid-December the Dutch Social Economic Council, which let the negotiations, informed the government that the energy sector and NGOs had agreed on sustainability criteria, but could not agree on a timeline for complying with those criteria. The letter from the SER to the Ministry of Economic Affairs outlines the agreed sustainability criteria and provides a description over what criteria the groups are divided on. This includes criteria related to greenhouse gas savings, carbon debt values and risks related to indirect land use change. In addition, the groups are divided over criteria for sustainable forest management, specifically over which aspects related to the legality of the activities and values related to the ecology, environment and biodiversity of the forest. The letter also explains the groups are divided over the criteria for the chain of custody, including aspects related to the certification and verification of the criteria. 

As a result, Dutch Minister of Economic Affairs Henk Kamp issued a letter to the Dutch Parliament on Dec. 24 that includes a government proposal on how the criteria must be implemented and verified. The letter notes that while demonstrating sustainability on the pellet, or regional, level is more practicable, the energy sector, NGOs and government believe it offers less certainty and agree sustainability should be demonstrated at the forest level. The letter indicates the ministry will phase in the sustainability requirements, starting with forests of more than 1,000 in 2015. In 2020, forests with more than 800 hectares would have to comply, followed by forests of more than 500 hectares in 2022. By 2024, all forests supplying biomass material into the subsidized Dutch cofiring market would be required to meet the certifications. The letter also specifies that for forests for which no level of certification or verification is required, proof must be given at the pellet mill level.

Additional information on the content of the letters, including links to the original documents, which were published in the Dutch language, is available on the USDA FAS GAIN website.

For more on the issue of Dutch sustainability standards, see “A Dutch Dilemma” in the January/February issue of Pellet Mill Magazine.