Fields of Gold : The Bioenergy Debate in International Organizations

Abstract: The concept of producing energy from biomass has, for the last two decades, occupied attention of policy-makers, private industries, researchers and civil societies around the world. The highly contested and contingent character of the biofuel production, its entanglement in the nexus of three problematic issues of energy, climate and agriculture, as well as its injection into the current socioeconomic arrangements, is what makes it timely to analyse.The thesis sheds light on the state of international debate on bioenergy by looking at deliberations of three major global institutions: Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), International Energy Agency (IEA) and Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). The primary aim is to trace and analyse how the concept of bioenergy is conceptualized and contextualized in assessments, reports, policy papers and other documents issued by FAO, IEA and IPCC in the 1990-2010 period. The secondary aim of the thesis, based on results derived from the primary objective, is set to problematize and reflect upon currently dominating socioeconomic arrangements that the concept of biomass-derived energy is inserted into. The research questions are organized around four distinctively contentious issues in the debate: biofuel production in developing countries, the food vs. fuel dilemma, bioenergy as a win-win-win solution and the future role of the second-generation bioenergy technology. The research questions are operationalized by applying four theoretical perspectives: the world-economy, Michel Foucault’s genealogy, discourse theory of Ernesto Laclau and Chantal Mouffe, and Fredric Jameson’s critical approach.The institutional debate illustrates that, while bioenergy appears to be an easy, plausible and thus attractive patch able to temporarily fix societal challenges of energy insecurity, climate change and agricultural crisis without changing much in the socioeconomic structure, its implementation exposes internal discrepancies of the hegemonic capitalist system. Whether bioenergy could actually function as a feasible win-win-win solution is of secondary importance. It is its economic feasibility expressed in the pressure on cost-effectiveness that matters the most but, at the same time, causes serious internal discrepancies in conceptualizations pursued by the organizations. The results point to two main conclusions. On the one hand, bioenergy is inevitably entrapped by the rules and arrangements of the hegemonic system that, in turn, cause internal contradictions. On the other hand, the institutional debate attempts to stabilize the shaky conceptualization of bioenergy, so that it can appear consistent and plausible, even if the possibility of reaching the closure of meaning fades away, with more conflicts on the rise. Furthermore, the results also show that the three international organizations exhibit uniform patterns of argumentations and the way they similarly discuss biomass-derived energy illustrates the objective to stabilize the meaning and adjust the concept of bioenergy to the hegemonic system.