United States Becomes Chair Of The Biofuture Platform Initiative

Vinson & Elkins LLP

In June 2021, the United States (“U.S.”) became the chair of the Biofuture Platform Initiative, an initiative of the Clean Energy Ministerial (the “Biofuture Platform”) for a two-year term, taking over the chair position from Brazil, which led the formation of the Biofuture Platform in 2016. As noted by the U.S. Department of Energy (“DOE”), the transition seeks to accelerate the deployment of sustainable low-carbon bioenergy across different industries.1 The voluntary involvement of the U.S. in the chair position suggests increased focus by the Biden administration on bioenergy policy matters. David Turk, Deputy Secretary of the DOE, accepted the U.S.’s installment into the chair position during the recent Biofuture Summit II and commented, “As the new Chair of the Biofuture Platform Initiative, the U.S. will focus on continually increasing the number and breadth of country members to make this truly a global coalition, focusing on the key challenge areas of developing sustainable biomass supply chains, exploring and forging consensus on environmental understanding of biomass as a key element of the clean technology revolution, stimulating private sector engagement, and critical policy convergence to enable success.”

In relation to GHG reduction efforts, Turk also commented that “electricity cannot do it all, especially in areas requiring very high energy density fuels like aviation, marine, heavy duty trucking and rail”, again suggesting that the Biden administration believes that bioenergy will have a meaningful role in its proposals for GHG reduction policies.

What is the Biofuture Platform?

The Biofuture Platform is an international effort currently consisting of 20 countries2 dedicated to tackling climate change by promoting sustainable and low-carbon bioenergy and bioeconomy. The previously existing Biofuture Platform was originally launched by the government of Brazil in 2016 at COP22, the twenty-second session of the United Nations Climate Change Conference in Marrakesh. Since 2019, the International Energy Agency (“IEA”) has been the facilitator and operating agent of the Biofuture Platform, and in 2020, the Biofuture Platform partnered with the Clean Energy Ministerial (“CEM”), a global forum dedicated to clean energy technology, to rebrand as the CEM Biofuture Platform Initiative. Like the Biofuture Platform, the IEA and CEM are voluntary and collaborative intergovernmental organizations that act as policy advisers to their member countries. The IEA has a broad focus on energy security and sustainability while the CEM focuses on promoting programs to advance clean energy technology and alternative energy sources as a whole. The Biofuture Platform fits within this framework by focusing its efforts on bioenergy.

What does the Biofuture Platform do?

The Biofuture Platform aims to promote policy coordination and raise awareness about the importance of utilizing low carbon fuels for transportation in the global agenda. The Biofuture Platform is intended to serve as a systematic way for member countries to learn from each other’s successes and mistakes, and to replicate efficient policies, in accelerating bioenergy production. Additionally, it is intended to promote international collaboration and dialogue regarding sustainable low-carbon bioeconomy between policy makers, industry, academia, and other stakeholders. By promoting dialogue among numerous stakeholders, the Biofuture Platform is also trying, to some extent, to educate the public about the feasibility and benefits of low-carbon alternatives through forums and webinars. For example, anyone could join the virtual summit hosted in May of this year, and they also issue press releases correcting any misinformation concerning low-carbon alternatives. Ultimately, the Biofuture Platform’s goal is to nurture solutions that will help countries reach their Nationally Determined Contribution targets and Sustainable Development Goals by promoting and sharing information about research and development activities and needs.

The Biofuture Platform is governed through opt-in voluntary collaboration. All major decisions, including country-backed policies or action plans, are taken by consensus of members with a right to refrain from backing those policies or plans.3 The chairperson’s duties, per the Biofuture Platform’s governance documents, include:4 (1) convening, conducting, and presiding over meetings and (2) encouraging the chairperson to attend and speak at key events and conferences on behalf of the Biofuture Platform.

The Biofuture Platform puts forward non-binding recommendations, reports, and core principles, seeks to correct misinformation identified in the media, and urges its member countries to take action in response to new statistics. In particular, the Biofuture Platform produces a Policy Blueprint5 and a Bioeconomy Status Report.6 The Biofuture Platform’s most recent releases include the following:

Commitments to Biofuels – In May 2021, the Biofuture Initiative announced its Biofuture Campaign, an initiative for member nations to have 10% of their fuels come from biofuels instead of fossil carbon fuels in an effort to reduce GHG emission.7 The Biofuture Campaign seeks to engage the private sector, namely, the transportation industry, under the Biofuture Platform by increasing (1) bioeconomy policy ambition, (2) feedstock availability and sustainability governance, and (3) sustainable and climate finance participation.8

Bioenergy and Sustainable Forestry Principles – In February 2021, the Biofuture Platform issued a release posting a declaration from the IEA Bioenergy Technology Collaboration Programme (IEA Bioenergy TCP) seeking to correct media reports which it believes incorrectly suggest irresponsible biomass harvesting and overexploitation of forests “without recognizing the many steps that have already been taken to mitigate such risks.” The declaration indicated that “[t]he use of woody biomass to meet growing energy demands as well as its carbon neutrality goals should not be excluded because there may be risks of unsustainable practices. Rather, the focus should be on what [sustainable forestry] practices, innovations and policy regulations are required to ensure sustainable sourcing and efficient conversion to bioenergy and bioproducts.” The IEA Bioenergy TCP is a global network on research and implementation of bioenergy established under the IEA’s Implementing Agreement mechanism.9

Post-COVID Bioeconomy Recovery Principles – In August 2020, the Biofuture Platform released core principles for countries to consider for post-COVID bioeconomy recovery and acceleration given reductions in bioenergy production during COVID.

What is the Significance of the U.S. Becoming the Next Chair of the Biofuture Platform?

The Biden administration has announced its ambitious target for the U.S. to reach net-zero GHG emissions by no later than 2050, and the DOE is aggressively pursuing the deployment of clean energy technologies. The Biofuture Platform has identified bioenergy as an overlooked area that can contribute significantly to carbon reduction efforts.10 It appears that the U.S. views bioenergy as a component to its overall climate change policy initiatives and that it will work to promote multilateral collaboration and extensive policy dialogues to promote sustainable bioenergy growth worldwide.

As the new chair, the U.S. stated its intent to continue increasing the number and diversity of country members to make the Bioenergy Platform a global coalition. Among other goals, the U.S. intends to accelerate technology to fast-track bioenergy development in many ways including:11 (1) developing sustainable biomass supply chains, (2) exploring and promoting an environmental understanding of biomass as a key element of the clean technology revolution, (3) stimulating private sector engagement as the key ultimate pathway to widescale commercialization, and (4) working to converge critical policies to enable success.

Payton Hampton, 2021 Summer Associate, contributed to this series post.

1 Link to PR Newswire Article.

2 Argentina, Brazil, Canada, China, Denmark, Egypt, Finland, France, India, Indonesia, Italy, Morocco, Mozambique, Netherlands, Paraguay, Philippines, Portugal, United Kingdom, United States of America and Uruguay.

3 Link to Governance Framework Document.

4 Id.

5 2021 is forthcoming and will include a series of country profiles analyzing the effectiveness of domestic bioenergy policies in selected countries.

6 2021 is forthcoming and will be a follow-up to the first edition issued in 2018. It will be an update on the status of bioenergy deployment in different countries and will focus on COVID-19 impacts.

7 Link to Biofuture Campaign.

8 Link to Biofuture Campaign Actions.

9 Link to Wood Biomass Article.

10 Link to CEM Initiative Article.

11 Link to video of Opening Ceremony + Keynote of the Biofuture Summit II / BBEST conference.

DISCLAIMER: Because of the generality of this update, the information provided herein may not be applicable in all situations and should not be acted upon without specific legal advice based on particular situations.

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