Indirect land-use change and biofuels: The contribution of assemblage theory to place-specific environmental governance

James Palmer*, Susan Owens

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle (Academic Journal)peer-review

17 Citations (Scopus)
45 Downloads (Pure)


The blending of liquid biofuels into road transport fuel has been supported by legally binding targets in Europe since 2009. Concerns over the extent to which these targets might engender indirect land-use change (ILUC), however, have an equally long history. Brought about when biofuel production displaces existing agricultural activity into new territory, ILUC has the potential to exert deleterious impacts upon the global climate, biodiversity, water and soil quality, food security, and even land rights. This paper begins by illustrating how current approaches to addressing this problem, predicated on equilibrium modelling and the concept of emissions 'factors', effectively detach its impacts from their place-specific contexts. Drawing on a relational view of space, the paper then advances an alternative, assemblage-based approach to conceptualising ILUC. By emphasising ILUC's fluidity, indeterminacy and complexity, this approach questions the logic of relying solely on abstractive science and policy tools to address the problem. The paper concludes by advocating an alternative approach to remedying ILUC - one that imbricates both place-specific and globally aggregated representations of the problem. The paper has implications for research across multiple disciplines addressing the sustainable governance of transport biofuels and wider bioenergy systems as a whole.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)18-26
Number of pages9
JournalEnvironmental Science and Policy
Issue numberA
Early online date17 Nov 2014
Publication statusPublished - 1 Nov 2015


  • Assemblage
  • Biofuels
  • Environmental governance
  • Indirect land-use change (ILUC)
  • Place-specific knowledge


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