Logo 'Fair Fuels?'

Between dead end and energy transition:
A social-ecological multilevel analysis of transnational biofuel policy

Module five: Biofuels as a Field of Transnational Conflict

Against the backdrop of scarce fossil fuels and rapidly advancing climate change, the production of so-called bio- or agrofuels has become a crucial element of new strategies to transform fossil fuel energy systems into more “sustainable” systems. Biofuels are supposed to ensure energy security and access to energy resources, as well as to reduce CO2-emissions.

The goal of module five is to analyze the conflicts, potentials, and risks of a so-called sustainable technology in its transnational interrelations. In doing so, the production of biofuels is conceived as a transnational conflict field. The production of biofuels, their use, and their political-economic governance is neither a solely local nor an exclusively global issue, nor can it be understood as a clearly defined policy area.

Thus, questions of interplay arise: How does the mandated use of agrofuels in liquid fuel mixtures for transportation in the EU and the US connect to the expansion of sugarcane in Brazil or Mozambique? How do the European and the US energy policies relate to declining labour standards or rising land-use conflicts in producing countries in the South? Further key questions are related to shifts in international power relations, social inequalities, processes of social closure, and ecological impacts. Finally, questions of policy-interfaces emerge: How do international trade policies, agricultural policies and climate policies interact and at the same time react to the production, use and trade of agricultural products as fuel?

As the production of such fuels expands, new actor-networks consisting of private, state, and non-state actors begin to emerge. Based on self-interest, they try to intervene – discursively and materially – in the politics of agrofuel production; as a consequence, the alleged traditional North-South relations are changing. Current developments in the area of biofuel production and associated power shifts cannot be captured adequately if the South is only perceived as a strictly dependent raw material supplier to the North. State actors, for example, the governments of Brazil or Malaysia, together with transnational corporations play a key role in the global promotion of biofuel production.

Module five focuses on the following key questions:

  1. Which political-economic, policy-specific and institutional regulations affect the production of biofuels at the global scale?
  2. What kind of actor-networks and constellations emerge at the different scales of action? Who gains shaping and decision-making power? What role do state and non-state actors play? What interests are being pursued?
  3. How can the decision-making processes with respect to biofuel policies be assessed from a democracy-theoretical and gender-specific perspective? What insights can be derived from this for an understanding of transnational social-nature relations?