‘Biofuel Governance and International Legal Principles’ by Mairon G. Bastos Lima

‘Biofuel Governance and International Legal Principles’ by Mairon G. Bastos Lima

[Mairon G. Bastos Lima is a PhD researcher at the Institute for Environmental Studies at the Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam.]

I thank the moderators of Opinio Juris for giving me this opportunity to reflect upon my article, entitled ‘Biofuel Governance and Interational Legal Principles: Is It Equitable and Sustainable?‘.

Global climate change, energy insecurity, and the underdevelopment of rural areas have been crucial issues in today’s world. Biofuels appear as a potential and innovative solution for all three problems, and policy-makers have been quick at promoting their large-scale production. Nevertheless, we see now that, if that production is left unfettered, many other issues may arise as a consequence, such as expansion of chemical-intensive monocultures and deforestation, displacement of rural communities, competition for land and water, and impacts on food security locally and globally. Even climate change itself may be enhanced instead of mitigated if the wrong production strategies are pursued. That clearly reveals the need for effective biofuel governance, oriented towards equitable and sustainable development.

A broad basis for that is provided by the Rio Declaration on Environment and Development, signed at the 1992 Earth Summit, as well as by other emerging principles of law, such as the good governance principles. In my article, I analyse those two sets of principles and match their requirements with current biofuel production and governance efforts. I argue that these current activities and efforts still fall short of most needs: the existing governance initiatives remain scattered and make up for a weak framework, failing to ensure the rule of law and the principles of legitimacy, transparency, inclusiveness, equity, accountability, and responsiveness to people’s most urgent needs. As such, the interests of those less powerful actors in society, who also happen to be the most affected (e.g. rural communities, indigenous peoples, the food-insecure) are yet to be duly heeded.

That has also created further North-South inequity. While the North has given most market, policy and political incentives and most of the steering in the international biofuel agenda, Southern countries reveal much more vulnerable to the impacts of large-scale biofuel expansion — as the geography of deforestation, food insecurity, and human rights violations shows. That coupled with lack of participation of the affected populations and inclusion of their views on the issue creates yet another worrisome North-South imbalance.

My article concludes that, without a governance framework that includes the most affected stakeholders and takes on board the multiple existing views on biofuels, there will be no countervailing powers to represent the weaker interests in society, such as those of the rural poor.

The full article can be accessed here.

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