Interrogating Social Sustainability in the Biofuels Sector in Latin America: Tensions Between Global Standards and Local Experiences in Mexico, Brazil, and Colombia

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© 2015, Springer Science+Business Media New York. Across the Americas, biofuels production systems are diverse due to geographic conditions, historical patterns of land tenure, different land use patterns, government policy frameworks, and relations between the national state and civil society, all of which shape the role that biofuels play in individual nations. Although many national governments throughout the Americas continue to incentivize growth of the biofuels industry, one key challenge for biofuels sustainability has been concern about its social impacts. In this article, we discuss some of the key social issues and tensions related to the recent expansion of biofuels production in Mexico, Colombia, and Brazil. We argue that a process of “simplification” of ecological and cultural diversity has aided the expansion of the biofuels frontier in these countries, but is also undermining their viability. We consider the ability of governments and non-state actors in multi-stakeholder initiatives (MSI) to address social and environmental concerns that affect rural livelihoods as a result of biofuels expansion. We analyze the tensions between global sustainability standards, national level policies for biofuels development, and local level impacts and visions of sustainability. We find that both government and MSI efforts to address sustainability concerns have limited impact, and recommend greater incorporation of local needs and expertise to improve governance.

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Environmental Management