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Points of contestation in the biofuels debate: Perspectives from selected international organizations in the post 2007/08 food price crises

  • David O Byrne
  • Sara Brogaard
Publishing year: 2015
Language: English
Document type: Conference paper: abstract

Abstract english

The 2007/08 food price crisis brought unprecedented international attention to the relationship between food and biofuels, and their competition over land. In this article we sought to understand how the international policy framing of the nexus of food, fuel and land has developed since the food price crisis. We undertook an analysis of major reports, since the crisis, by three international policy prescriptive organizations representing food security, energy security and climate change concerns: the FAO, IEA and UNEP respectively. We analysed the contents of these reports under three categories: the policy/normative outlook, policy measures, instruments and technology, and scenarios and predictions. We found that while the IEA has remained optimistic about the potential of biofuels to contribute to both climate change mitigation and energy security, relying particularly on second generation fuels supported by government subsidies to reduce competition with food for land resources, both the FAO and UNEP appear to be growing increasingly skeptical particularly in relation to rural development. Both the FAO and UNEP show concern growing over the period since the crisis, firstly that second generation fuels with not deliver on the promise of reduced competition and secondly that biofuels production is causing problems related to local land rights in the global south. Scenarios predicting biofuel market share showed increases shortly after the crisis but have levelled off. Scenarios predicting future land use change due to biofuels firstly became less precise and later this parameter was no longer modelled. We discuss what implications the divergent and uncertain discourse around biofuels from these organizations has for the future of biofuels as a sustainable alternative to fossil fuels at the international level.


  • Social Sciences Interdisciplinary


Biofuels and (ir)responsible innovation: tensions between policy, practice and sustainable development
Sara Brogaard
E-mail: sara.brogaard [at]

Senior lecturer

LUCSUS (Lund University Centre for Sustainability Studies)

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