Biofuels policy in the US and EU: A sustainable future or an agrarian past?



12 August 2010

Professor Adrian Kay, Associate Professor, Policy & Governance Program, Crawford School of Economics and Government, ANU discussed the topic "Biofuels policy in the US and EU: a sustainable future or an agrarian past?"

The capacity to coordinate or `join-up' policy making has been widely identified as an essential part of the effective governance of sustainability. Without such capacity, sustainability policy is liable to remain in functional silos with its requirements for cognate policy areas being variously attenuated, resisted and mediated by existing policy institutions.

The scale of the challenge to state capacity of decoupling emissions growth from energy consumption across the whole economy is formidable. In the relatively autonomous, non-hierarchical institutional environments of the US and the EU, there are very few detailed empirical studies of co-ordination in the fast moving sustainability policy agenda. This paper draws on recent primary research in Brussels and Washington, funded by the UK’s ESRC, to compare the policy processes of the US 2007 Energy Independence and Security Act and the EU’s 2009 Biofuels Directive. Both impose mandates for the use of renewable fuels in transport well above current domestic production levels and have involved the development of sustainability criteria that need to be met before supplies can be counted as contributing towards the mandated figure. Preliminary analysis of the data reveals two cases of non-joined-up policy making: demand side policy is enacted without coordination with supply availability and import security concerns, or land use change requirements or the demands of WTO rule compliance. Furthermore, both cases reveals that the discourse of sustainability, far from helping to integrate various policy objectives in a common concern, was used as a key resource by institutionally-embedded actors in existing policy legacies to protect their autonomy against a coordinated sustainability policy process.