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David Harnesk (photo Emilio José Bernard)

David Harnesk


David Harnesk (photo Emilio José Bernard)

Adding Fuel to the Fire : North-South dynamics in the geographies of transport energy: the case of EU biofuels


  • David Harnesk

Summary, in English

Since the 2000s, the European Union (EU) has promoted biofuels for transport to achieve climate change mitigation, and rural development in the global South. In contrast, critiques have argued that biofuel promotion impedes more meaningful mitigation while also resulting in dispossession of land and loss of labour opportunities in the global South. In this thesis, I study why the EU is promoting liquid biofuels for transport despite critique. I ask the following main questions: Can EU biofuel regulation assure the desired outcomes of significant mitigation of transport emissions and positive social effects in rural areas? If not, what would constitute more viable alternatives for achieving the desired outcomes?

Within a sustainability science frame, I draw on critical realism, emancipatory social science, and a mixed methods approach to examine the complex interdependencies of energy and geography across three interconnected analytical domains: ‘geopolitics’, ‘energy markets’ and ‘energy landscapes’. For each domain there is a specific empirical focus and a corresponding theoretical body. The main structure of the thesis starts with a systematic ‘diagnosis and critique’ of EU biofuel regulation, then proceeds to discuss ‘alternatives and transformation’.

My analysis unfolds in three major parts with respective findings. First, EU biofuel regulation impedes more meaningful mitigation of transport emissions. Its intrinsic mechanisms encourage firms to further expand intensified land-use practises for the production of energy commodities. This spills over to new land areas for increased production, and does not ensure substantial greenhouse gas emission reductions. Second, EU biofuel regulation has adverse social effects on the ‘transnational rural precariat’ especially in the global South where many states and governments accepted investments for the production of liquid biofuels as a means for development although it resulted in accumulation by dispossession. Together, these mechanisms tend to shift land and labour relations towards intensive agriculture with output designated for external regional markets, and without delivering ample social benefits to populations in these rural areas. Third, EU biofuel regulation is a response to (multiple) crises in capitalism: liquid biofuels have provided firms with new accumulation opportunities and the EU’s regulatory mechanisms allow firms in pre-existing geographies of production and consumption to produce commodities in more ‘flexible’ ways. Importantly, I found that this ‘flexing’ is a defining feature of EU biofuel regulation wherein the ensuing geopolitical territorialisation reproduces the ‘transport energy landscape’ and its underlying social relations.

Finally, I discuss more viable alternatives for achieving the desired outcomes that can be promoted by exploiting the now identified gaps and contradictions inherent to the EU’s support of liquid biofuels for transport. To conclude, I theorize the role of energy geographies in climate change mitigation, and delineate my contributions to the research agenda of sustainability science.


  • LUCSUS (Lund University Centre for Sustainability Studies)

Publishing year




Document type



Lund University


  • Social Sciences Interdisciplinary


  • energy geography
  • geopolitics
  • territorialisation
  • climate change mitigation
  • transport
  • biofuels
  • agrofuels
  • European Union (EU)
  • certification
  • sustainability criteria
  • sustainability science
  • energi
  • geografi
  • geopolitik
  • territorialisering
  • klimatomställning
  • transport
  • biodrivmedel
  • biobränsle
  • Europeiska Unionen
  • certifiering
  • hållbarhetskriterier
  • hållbarhetsvetenskap




  • Anne Jerneck
  • Sara Brogaard


  • ISBN: 978-91-982201-9-3
  • ISBN: 978-91-984630-0-2

Defence date

6 April 2018

Defence time


Defence place

Ostrom in Josephson buildning, Biskopsgatan 5, Lund


  • Garvin Bridge (Professor)