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Abstract

The scale of the ambition to decouple emissions growth from energy consumption in the economy runs counter to several decades of debates and literatures on the limits of government. Transport biofuels are an early and influential case of the policy capacity challenge in the transition to low-carbon economies. The case stands analytically for the policy-maker’s dilemma of maintaining longer term policy goals as credible commitments, even though considerable flexibility and adaptability in policy-making is required to reach those far horizon goals in conditions of high technological and market uncertainty. In such terms, this paper compares US and EU biofuels policy processes, revealing an intertemporal choice which tests the capacity to account for the future benefits of a low carbon future in current policy processes; because if the pathway to their achievement is uncertain and politically contested in the implementation phase, then those future benefits may be heavily discounted, shortening policy-maker horizons and rendering the overall transition process politically vulnerable.

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