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Battles over Biofuels in Europe: NGOs and the Politics of Markets


  • Sarah Pilgrim


  • Mark Harvey


In this paper, we argue that a consortium of NGOs has played a significant role in shaping the market for, and restricting the use of, biofuels as an alternative to conventional fuels for road transport in Europe. This paper considers why a number of NGOs (Greenpeace, Oxfam, WWF, RSPB, Friends of the Earth) have chosen to enter the biofuels debate, and how they have variously developed policy, agreed a political campaign, and exercised political influence, in a key area of the world's response to major global climate change: how to reduce the carbon footprint of transport. We found that in many cases the development of NGO policy has been driven more by narrow political opportunities for influence than by broader and more coherent policy responses to global climate change or economic development, or indeed rigorous assessment of the scientific evidence. The research provides evidence of how NGO policies and lobbying significantly affected biofuel policy changes, review processes, target reductions, and sustainability regulation in the UK and in Europe. We consider that politically instituted markets, such as the one for biofuels, are examples of the emergence of new forms of governance of capitalist political economies facing a novel and pressing combination of drivers (climate change, energy security, resource constraints, and sustainable land-use). Politically instituted markets open up possibilities for political intervention from non-governmental or party-political actors, in ways that other markets do not. If political shaping of markets by NGOs becomes more widespread, issues of democratic legitimacy and public scrutiny will become ever more pressing. The paper is based on in-depth interviews with senior scientific directors and policy-makers in five NGOs, and of senior officials in UK government departments and the European Commission (DG Environment and DG Transport and Energy). It forms part of a wider ESRC research project in Brazil, the USA and Europe on the Transition to Sustainable Bioeconomies.

Suggested Citation

  • Sarah Pilgrim & Mark Harvey, 2010. "Battles over Biofuels in Europe: NGOs and the Politics of Markets," Sociological Research Online, Sociological Research Online, vol. 15(3), pages 1-4.
  • Handle: RePEc:sro:srosro:2009-89-3

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    Cited by:

    1. Upham, Paul & Tomei, Julia & Dendler, Leonie, 2011. "Governance and legitimacy aspects of the UK biofuel carbon and sustainability reporting system," Energy Policy, Elsevier, vol. 39(5), pages 2669-2678, May.
    2. Brigitte Portner & Albrecht Ehrensperger & Zufan Nezir & Thomas Breu & Hans Hurni, 2014. "Biofuels for a Greener Economy? Insights from Jatropha Production in Northeastern Ethiopia," Sustainability, MDPI, Open Access Journal, vol. 6(9), pages 1-15, September.
    3. Berti, Pietro & Levidow, Les, 2014. "Fuelling expectations: A policy-promise lock-in of UK biofuel policy," Energy Policy, Elsevier, vol. 66(C), pages 135-143.
    4. Mohr, Alison & Raman, Sujatha, 2013. "Lessons from first generation biofuels and implications for the sustainability appraisal of second generation biofuels," Energy Policy, Elsevier, vol. 63(C), pages 114-122.
    5. Boucher, Philip, 2012. "The role of controversy, regulation and engineering in UK biofuel development," Energy Policy, Elsevier, vol. 42(C), pages 148-154.

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    NGO; Biofuels; Europe; Policy; Markets; Transport;


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