European Union member states will discuss ways to prevent harmful consequences from biofuel production later on Wednesday, including a two-phase approach to carbon dioxide savings.
The green credentials of biofuels have come under attack in recent months over fears that they compete for farming land and push up food prices around the world.
In Europe, proposals by the European Commission to source 10 per cent of road transport fuels from renewable sources like crops and biomass by 2020 have been called into question.
Faced with growing unease, EU countries and the Commission - the EU executive – have set up a working group to tighten the criteria ensuring biofuel production does not cause social or environmental harm.
The standards include a stipulation that biofuels represent a 35 per cent carbon dioxide saving compared with oil, addressing concerns that some sources like US maize generate nearly as much CO2 during production as the fossil fuels they replace.
Ambassadors will meet in Brussels later on Wednesday to discuss a report by that working group and will focus on deciding a goal for CO2 savings, starting at 35 per cent and raising the standard at a later date.
"There is agreement on the presidency suggestion of a two-step approach to CO2 savings," said an official from the current Slovenian presidency of the EU. The percentage and timing of the second step had not yet been decided, EU sources added.
Ambassadors will discuss environmental standards for biofuels production and whether to try to police social conditions and labour rights in biofuel-producing countries.
Discussions in the EU working group have included the possibility of demanding that biofuel producers meet with International Labour Organisation standards, EU sources said, but such measures are not universally accepted.
"It is worth asking if social conditions tied to biofuel exports make sense," EU trade commissioner Peter Mandelson wrote in an article last week. "Why should we suggest there is an obligation on producers who export sugar cane biofuel, but not on those who export plain sugar cane?"