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

Module five: Biofuels as a Field of Transnational Conflict

The potential for using policy instruments to contain the numerous ecological, as well as social and social-economic problems, associated with the production of biofuels has been the subject of heated discussions for several years now. The ecological impacts of biofuels, e.g. rainforest deforestation, as well as the social consequences, e.g. the impact on food prices, have received critical, public appraisal. Thus the level of debate and the attention given to possible policy approaches for dealing with the issue have once again noticeably increased.

Relevant here are the various roles played in the political process by participating environmental and social issues groups, but also (both positively and negatively) affected businesses. With a view to policy instruments being implemented at the EU level and in Germany, the role of science is also relevant, inasmuch as “scientific policy advisors” were heavily involved in drawing up these methodologically complex regulations. This raises, for one thing, the question of the nature of the science-policy interface. At the same time, the role and suitability of the impact assessments (in place at the EU level for some years now) that must be carried out before the introduction of significant policy regulations – and this applies as well to biofuels policy – are open to critical scrutiny.

Against this background of extremely diverse positions and opinions on the impact and scope of the sustainability policy and instruments for biofuels production, the questions arises: Is it possible to offer some scientific insight and clarification with respect to these issues? The project adressed this and the following questions: What is the effect of biofuels-sustainability policy, what is its scope, and is it a suitable instrument for coping with the social-ecological problems and conflicts of biofuels production? What recommendations for the application/expansion of sustainability policy to the entire agricultural or biomass sector can be drawn from the findings on biofuels? What advice and recommendations for a reformulation of the policy can be given?