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Public Policy and the Governance of Biofuel Systems

Di Lucia, Lorenzo LU (2011)
Abstract (Swedish)
Popular Abstract in English

Nowadays road, air and sea transport activities around the world are almost completely dependent on finite and polluting oil fuels. Biofuels are fuels produced from biomass which can be used to substitute gasoline and diesel in cars, busses and (soon) planes. Where oil was created millions of years ago and is soon reaching its limit, biofuels are renewable fuels which can be produced by farmers in every region of the world. This constitutes a major improvement in energy security issues through the reduction of the need to import oil and can hold a great potential for economic and rural development especially in poor countries.



However, as society did with oil it is now... (More)
Popular Abstract in English

Nowadays road, air and sea transport activities around the world are almost completely dependent on finite and polluting oil fuels. Biofuels are fuels produced from biomass which can be used to substitute gasoline and diesel in cars, busses and (soon) planes. Where oil was created millions of years ago and is soon reaching its limit, biofuels are renewable fuels which can be produced by farmers in every region of the world. This constitutes a major improvement in energy security issues through the reduction of the need to import oil and can hold a great potential for economic and rural development especially in poor countries.



However, as society did with oil it is now realizing that biofuels are not perfect. Attractive benefits such as reduction of greenhouse gas emissions, energy security and agricultural development do not come automatically. Even worse, if mismanaged, biofuels can create a whole new range of problems; increased emissions of greenhouse gasses, biodiversity losses and competition with food production. With such promising potential and so great risks biofuels have been quite naturally the source of intense debate. At the head of the debate is how to develop biofuels in a sustainable way.



In this thesis I studied the role of governments in the process of directing the development of biofuels: governing biofuels. So far governments around the world have played a central role in the rapid development of biofuels by granting tax reductions, production subsidies and even forcing oil companies to sell biofuels. As a result the world consumes increasing quantities of biofuels. Even if their share is still small (around 3% of total consumption of transport fuels), their impact on the environment and society could prove to be significant. I have focused my studies on governments, understood as institutions which include organisations, such as agencies and ministries, and public policies with the intention of understanding whether governments successfully employ and create policies which adequately balance between risks and benefits of biofuels. A basic assumption in my studies is that governments cannot act alone in this process of governing, but need to interact and sometimes cooperate with the rest of society, for example, with farmers, car producers, consumers and so on. This way of governing is referred in political science as governance.



I studied a number of cases in rich and developing countries to discover that governments have little experience with this type of complex problems. Their capacity to govern and ensure that biofuels are positively contributing to social and environmental objectives is weak. Major problems are connected with the difficulties of having truly sustainable biofuels: biofuel producers in developing and developed countries and environmental NGOs do not agree on what sustainable biofuels are, consumers do not know, and the scientific knowledge is inconclusive. This situation is partly due to the effects of biofuels being in many ways difficult to observe and quantify. Clearly some people are better off thanks to biofuels, while others might lose from their expansion. But there is no agreement on the overall impact of biofuels on the environment and society.



In this situation I argue that governments should change strategy to move towards more sustainable paths. After 5 years of intense research I see two (probably complementary) strategies to move in that direction. On the one hand, they should improve the capacity to govern by addressing conflicts among actors, especially at international level. On the other hand, they need to adjust expectations and ambitions so that biofuels are approached with more realistic goals. The key assumption here is that ambitions and capacity to govern should grow together.



The results of this study are useful not only for biofuels! Every product we consume has many impacts on the environment and society we live in. Today the conscious consumer asks what these impacts are and what to do to limit them. The work carried out on improving the capacity to govern biofuels will be useful in the future. We simply need to realize that biofuels are not so unique and that even if we develop them sustainably society will still have problems with climate change, hunger and biodiversity. The lessons learnt with biofuels will reveal themselves to be very useful when we decide to apply the same way of thinking to other products like oil, meat, electronics, etc. My hope is for this thesis to contribute to that. (Less)
Abstract
The dependency of transport on oil fuels is responsible for risks of energy supply security, and local, regional and global environmental problems, including the emission of greenhouse gases affecting the Earth’s climate system. Biofuels attracted considerable attention in recent years as a solution to these problems. However, the deployment of biofuel technologies poses as many opportunities to be exploited as risks to be avoided, and this generates important concerns in a world seeking solutions to its energy, environmental and food challenges. The fine balance between benefits and harms is expected to be mastered by government policies and this generates great expectations on the capacity of policy-makers to control the process and... (More)
The dependency of transport on oil fuels is responsible for risks of energy supply security, and local, regional and global environmental problems, including the emission of greenhouse gases affecting the Earth’s climate system. Biofuels attracted considerable attention in recent years as a solution to these problems. However, the deployment of biofuel technologies poses as many opportunities to be exploited as risks to be avoided, and this generates important concerns in a world seeking solutions to its energy, environmental and food challenges. The fine balance between benefits and harms is expected to be mastered by government policies and this generates great expectations on the capacity of policy-makers to control the process and steer biofuels away from undesirable scenarios.



In this context, the overarching aim of my doctoral thesis was to explore the functioning of public policies and programmes in the field of biofuels with the ambition of identifying ways to improve their governance. The thesis is based on five empirical studies aimed at examining biofuels policies and programmes in a sample of cases from industrialized countries, the EU, and industrializing countries, Mozambique and Brazil.



The findings of these studies indicate that a large variety of problems hinder the performance of government interventions in the field of biofuels. Problems are found at all stages of the policy cycle in both industrialized and industrializing countries. Furthermore, the studies draw attention to how expectations and requirements placed on biofuels have increased in the period under analysis. From the empirical studies we conclude that biofuels are inherently difficult to govern. Concerning the systemic governability of biofuels, the results indicate that governance has become more problematic in the period analysed. The system that public policies are meant to govern is highly diverse, complex and covers the entire globe. Governors are poorly equipped to deal with such challenges, especially at international level. The analysis of biofuel governance also reveals that there are potential opportunities that can be exploited to improve the performance of biofuel policies and programmes. Two complementary directions for improvement are highlighted: improve governing capacity and reduce governance needs. It is concluded that if biofuels can contribute to a low-carbon/oil free future transport system, we must improve our capacity to direct and steer their production and use. However, even if other transport technologies, e.g. electric vehicles, become dominant, the lessons learned from the case of biofuels will still prove useful if, or rather when, similar societal scrutiny is applied to other natural resource-based production systems. (Less)
Please use this url to cite or link to this publication:
author
supervisor
opponent
  • Associate professor Berndes, Göran, Department of Energy and Environment, Chalmers University of Technology, Göteborg
organization
publishing date
type
Thesis
publication status
published
subject
keywords
transport, Biofuels, governance, policy, governability
pages
182 pages
defense location
Room V:B, V-building, John Ericssons väg 1, Lund University Faculty of Engineering
defense date
2012-01-20 09:15
ISBN
978-91-7473-226-9
language
English
LU publication?
yes
id
53c22545-f95d-45fc-b952-5eb92e9a8a4f (old id 2256662)
date added to LUP
2011-12-27 13:29:57
date last changed
2016-09-19 08:45:15
@misc{53c22545-f95d-45fc-b952-5eb92e9a8a4f,
  abstract     = {The dependency of transport on oil fuels is responsible for risks of energy supply security, and local, regional and global environmental problems, including the emission of greenhouse gases affecting the Earth’s climate system. Biofuels attracted considerable attention in recent years as a solution to these problems. However, the deployment of biofuel technologies poses as many opportunities to be exploited as risks to be avoided, and this generates important concerns in a world seeking solutions to its energy, environmental and food challenges. The fine balance between benefits and harms is expected to be mastered by government policies and this generates great expectations on the capacity of policy-makers to control the process and steer biofuels away from undesirable scenarios.<br/><br>
<br/><br>
In this context, the overarching aim of my doctoral thesis was to explore the functioning of public policies and programmes in the field of biofuels with the ambition of identifying ways to improve their governance. The thesis is based on five empirical studies aimed at examining biofuels policies and programmes in a sample of cases from industrialized countries, the EU, and industrializing countries, Mozambique and Brazil.<br/><br>
<br/><br>
The findings of these studies indicate that a large variety of problems hinder the performance of government interventions in the field of biofuels. Problems are found at all stages of the policy cycle in both industrialized and industrializing countries. Furthermore, the studies draw attention to how expectations and requirements placed on biofuels have increased in the period under analysis. From the empirical studies we conclude that biofuels are inherently difficult to govern. Concerning the systemic governability of biofuels, the results indicate that governance has become more problematic in the period analysed. The system that public policies are meant to govern is highly diverse, complex and covers the entire globe. Governors are poorly equipped to deal with such challenges, especially at international level. The analysis of biofuel governance also reveals that there are potential opportunities that can be exploited to improve the performance of biofuel policies and programmes. Two complementary directions for improvement are highlighted: improve governing capacity and reduce governance needs. It is concluded that if biofuels can contribute to a low-carbon/oil free future transport system, we must improve our capacity to direct and steer their production and use. However, even if other transport technologies, e.g. electric vehicles, become dominant, the lessons learned from the case of biofuels will still prove useful if, or rather when, similar societal scrutiny is applied to other natural resource-based production systems.},
  author       = {Di Lucia, Lorenzo},
  isbn         = {978-91-7473-226-9},
  keyword      = {transport,Biofuels,governance,policy,governability},
  language     = {eng},
  pages        = {182},
  title        = {Public Policy and the Governance of Biofuel Systems},
  year         = {2011},
}