Journal article Open Access

Why does the European Union produce biofuels? Examining consistency and plausibility in prevailing narratives with quantitative storytelling

Cadillo-Benalcazar, J.J.; Bukkens, S.G.F.; Ripa, M.; Giampietro, M.

This paper seeks to clarify the confusion created by the simultaneous use of non-equivalent policy discourses about biofuels within the EU and addresses the inconsistency between long-term goals and short-term targets. To this purpose, a novel approach, quantitative storytelling, is employed to examine the plausibility of current policy narratives. It confronts quantitative data on the production and use of biofuels at member-state (the Netherlands) and EU level against the official storytelling. Our analysis shows that in the Netherlands the actual production and use of biofuels are motivated by economic incentives and trade opportunities rather than the original policy justifications and hitting biofuel targets has become a justification in itself (the phenomenon of displacement). At EU level, the vast majority of the current (inadequate) supply of liquid biofuels still consists in first-generation biofuels, which are to be phased out. Advanced and food-waste-based biofuels are unlikely to fill the void any time soon. The analysis shows incoherence among the narratives underlying the justification of policies and those used for their implementation. It is concluded that the quality of the biofuels policy debate could be improved by acknowledging the existence and influence of untold stories and hidden justification narratives.

The authors gratefully acknowledge funding from the European Union's Horizon 2020 research and innovation programme under grant agreement No. 689669 (MAGIC) and the government of Catalonia (AGAUR) under grant agreement 2017-SGR-230 (IASTE). The Institute of Environmental Science and Technology (ICTA) has received financial support from the Spanish Ministry of Science, Innovation and Universities (MICINN) through the "María de Maeztu" program for Units of Excellence (CEX2019-000940-M). This work reflects only the authors' view; the funding agencies are not responsible for any use that may be made of the information it contains. This paper has greatly benefited from the detailed comments and constructive suggestions of two anonymous reviewers.
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