Fuel for the Fire: Biofuels and the Problem of Translation at the Tenth Conference of the Parties to the Convention on Biological Diversity



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Global Environmental Politics


Since their emergence as a major global concern in the early 2000s, biofuels have proven to be complex, multifaceted, and problematic objects to govern.1 The Convention on Biological Diversity’s (CBD) decision on “Biofuels and Biodiversity,” negotiated at the Tenth Conference of the Parties (COP10), represents an instance of failed translation, using Callon’s concept of a mechanism that guides the coproduction of science and society.2 In international environmental governance forums such as the CBD, various actors aim to collectively translate diverse networks of entities, human and non-human, into governable objects. Drawing from ethnographic data collected at CBD COP10, we identify three debates that characterize the struggle to translate the multiplicity of feedstocks, production processes, and stakeholders that collectively comprise “biofuels” into a singular, governable object: setting the scope of the decision, addressing the positive impacts of biofuels on biodiversity, and balancing the authority of claims around synthetic biology. Through these debates, we trace strategies of rendering political issues “technical,” relying on formal text to stabilize contested identities, and restricting the sources of knowledge drawn upon. We suggest that the CBD parties experiment with new strategies, taking advantage of the COP’s legal flexibility and the CBD’s institutional history of engaging with the political nature of scientific knowledge.



CBD, biofuels