Sustainability indicators for bioenergy recognised internationally


After three years of intense international negotiations comprehensive sustainability indicators for bioenergy are now available for the first time on a global level. Oeko-Institut (Institute for Applied Ecology) and the Institute for Energy and Environmental Research (IFEU) provided scientific support and consultancy for the development of indicators, which were decided upon in Washington DC within the framework of the Global Bioenergy Partnership (GBEP) at the end of May 2011.

“The 24 indicators, which were developed in intergovernmental consensus, represent an important step towards the sustainable deployment of bioenergy”, explains Uwe R. Fritsche, project leader at Oeko-Institut. “The sustainability requirements encompass the fields of greenhouse gas emissions, biodiversity, food prices and availability, access to modern forms of energy, energy security and economic development. These indicators are not legally binding, but can function as guidelines for future bioenergy strategies on the national level.”

The indicators provide governments with key points of reference as to whether national policy, programmes and projects on bioenergy are sustainable. For the first time, assessment criteria are now available which have been developed by industrialised and developing countries, and emerging economies. These criteria are substantially more comprehensive than, for example, the binding EU sustainability requirements for biofuels. The latter cover only greenhouse gases, biodiversity, carbon-rich areas and the sustainability of agriculture in the EU. The EU requirements also only apply to liquid bioenergy carriers.

The researchers provided support during the negotiation process to the German delegation from the German Federal Ministry for the Environment, Nature Conservation and Nuclear Safety and the German Federal Ministry of Food, Agriculture, and Consumer Protection. Together with the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), Oeko-Institut led the “Environment” Working Group as well as the work stream on indirect land-use changes within the GBEP Sustainability Task Force.

In the course of the negotiation process, Oeko-Institut held direct, in-depth discussions with GBEP partners and successfully supported the elaboration of viable, science-based wordings of the agreed indicators.

Through the above-mentioned agreement, the work of the GBEP enters a new phase: In the coming years the GBEP will be supporting the so-called “Capacity Building Programme for Sustainable Bioenergy” in order to promote globally the use and implementation of the sustainability indicators on a domestic level. A corresponding GBEP programme of work was also agreed in Washington DC.

“This work will continue to be supported by the German government and Oeko-Institut will also continue to act as expert consultant and a point of contact regarding the sustainable deployment of bioenergy,” says Fritsche. “We’ll also continue working intensively on open questions concerning the indirect effects of bioenergy production.”

The GBEP was initiated at the G8 summit in Gleneagles in 2005. The work on the GBEP sustainability indicators – for which 17 countries and seven international institutions cooperated – began in 2008.

Further information on and results from Oeko-Institut’s sustainable biomass projects are available from the website at:

The GBEP sustainability indicators can be found here>>

The new GBEP programme of work on “Capacity Building for Sustainable Bioenergy” can be found here>>


Uwe R. Fritsche
Researcher, Energy & Climate Division
Oeko-Institut e.V., Darmstadt Office
Tel: +49 6151 8191-24