- The Washington Times - Saturday, April 28, 2007

THE HAGUE — A Dutch commission is proposing a system aimed at ensuring that crops used to create biofuels as replacements for oil and gas do not do more harm than good.

In the rush to develop biofuels, forests are burned in Asia to clear land for palm oil, and swaths of the Amazon are stripped of diverse vegetation for soya and sugar plantations for ethanol.

“We all know that biomass potentially can play an important role in sustainable energy production,” said Environment Minister Jacqueline Cramer. “But the question is: How do you do that in a way that is truly sustainable?”

The scheme disclosed Friday makes the Netherlands a front-runner among nations seeking to tackle the new climate change dilemma. Other European countries are working along similar lines and are closely watching the Dutch initiative — the first to reach the level of government consideration.

The Dutch panel, called the Cramer Commission because the environment minister chaired it before being appointed to the Cabinet, has drawn up a framework that companies can use to measure the sustainability of crops used for biofuels.

The framework evaluates emission reduction compared with fossil fuels and whether the crops supplant other land uses such as food production. It also looks at whether the crops reduce biodiversity, damage the environment or use pesticides.

Dutch companies can check some of the criteria, but the government and independent monitoring also will have to ensure they are being met, Ms. Cramer said.

The Dutch government is not proposing new laws to underpin the system, as there are fears they could conflict with World Trade Organization rules.

“As long as it’s a voluntary system, we don’t have a problem,” Ms. Cramer said.

The report also outlined other principles. The production of biofuels cannot contribute to deforestation, deplete reservoirs of carbon captured in the earth, degrade soil or water supplies, or displace local populations.

It also calls for greenhouse gas emissions to be cut by at least 70 percent for generating electricity, and 30 percent for transportation fuels.

A group of Dutch environmental groups including Greenpeace and Environment Defense called the plan “a step in the right direction” but said it did not go far enough.

“In essential areas, the plans fall short,” the groups said. “Rain forests can still be cleared for new plantations.”

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