Fuelling Expectations: UK Biofuel Policy
Date: 30 September 2013
University of Exeter
PhD in Sociology
This dissertation analyses the biofuel debate in the UK, focusing on how the UK Government has deployed expectations to legitimise its biofuel policy. The analysis builds on the sociology of expectations, integrated with insights from the multi-level perspective (MLP) on socio-technical transitions. By the end of the 1990s, a sustainable ...
This dissertation analyses the biofuel debate in the UK, focusing on how the UK Government has deployed expectations to legitimise its biofuel policy. The analysis builds on the sociology of expectations, integrated with insights from the multi-level perspective (MLP) on socio-technical transitions. By the end of the 1990s, a sustainable paradigm permeated UK road transport policy opening a space for biofuel policy to emerge. In the second half of the 2000s, disagreements among UK stakeholders over the translation of EU biofuel targets into UK biofuel policy prefigured later EU-wide discussions over limiting targets for first-generation biofuels. Biofuels critics disagreed with the UK Government and biofuels supporters over how to protect a space for future second-generation biofuels, which were expected to overcome the harm caused by currently available, but controversial, first-generation biofuels. The UK Government and biofuels supporters defended rising targets for available biofuels as a necessary stimulus for industry to help fulfil the UK’s EU obligations and eventually develop second-generation biofuels. By contrast, critics opposed biofuels targets on the grounds that these would instead lock-in first-generation biofuels, thus pre-empting second-generation biofuels. I argue that these disagreements can be explained in relation to the UK Government‘s responsibilities relating to “promise-requirement cycles”, whereby technological promises generate future requirements for the actors involved. Further, I claim that the UK Government’s stance reflects what I call a “policy-promise lock-in” – i.e. a situation in which previous policy commitments towards technology innovators of incumbent technologies (currently controversial and potentially driven by several imperatives) are officially justified as necessary for the development of preferable emerging technologies. Finally, my analysis expands the focus of the sociology of expectations, which has hitherto mostly been used to investigate expectations from technology innovators – i.e. scientists or industrialists – by investigating how other types of actor mediate expectations among different parties, in particular, public authorities, industry associations, consultancies, and non-governmental organisations.
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