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Voluntary Bioenergy Certification A Legitimate Approach to Account for Social Aspects in Environmental Governance?

Biofuels have recently come under severe criticism regarding their social and environmental impacts. One potential solution for these problems that is increasingly discussed now is the certification of bioenergy. In the wake of this discussion, a broad range of certification initiatives emerged during the last years. However, this issue is predominantly debated in terms of the environmental implications. Accordingly, governmental approaches to this issue often neglect the need for including social aspects into sustainability principles and criteria, most prominently here the EU Renewable Energies Directive (RED). Non-state voluntary certification initiatives, by accounting for the social implications of increased bioenergy production, could therefore be seen as complementary governance instruments that are able to fill the void left by state regulations in this respect.

After briefly addressing the reasons why state regulations tend to neglect social aspects concerning this matter, this paper seeks to explore whether voluntary bioenergy certification schemes could really be able to fulfill these hopes and provide the solution for the missing consideration of social criteria for sustainable bioenergy. And how could these private non-state initiatives do so in a politically and democratically legitimate way? So as to deal with these issues from a scientific perspective, a distinct analytical framework to evaluate the legitimacy of private governance is presented. Based on this framework, five voluntary bioenergy certification schemes are selected and their consideration given to its social dimension is examined. In order to address the characteristics of our conception of non-state legitimacy, the actor constellations behind these certification initiatives are analyzed with a view to determine the structural representation of social interests. Furthermore, we also give attention to the control and accountability mechanisms incorporated into the certification schemes that are supposed to safeguard the common welfare-orientation of the initiatives. The results of this analysis shed some light on the particular challenges and bottlenecks of ensuring social sustainability via non-state voluntary certification systems in the bioenergy sector. In the concluding chapter, these results are put into perspective and a more general discussion on the potential of non-state voluntary governance approaches regarding the social dimension of environmental governance are presented.

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