How do multi-level governance processes link global energy and climate change discourses to grounded activities in production areas?

By Adriaan Bedner

Quote: “Our research also describes how the multi-level governance processes that link global energy and climate change discourses to grounded activities in production areas are diverted from their objectives by such policy entrepreneurs at the intermediate levels at which global and local actors interact.”

During the past two decades there has been a shift in authority from nation-states to other institutions in the governance of biofuel production, trade and consumption (authority here refers to the capacity to legitimately produce rules influencing the behavior of actors in a given field). The main driver of this process has been globalization, combined with neoliberalism as its ideological counterpart. It is no longer national, or even international, law that provides the single normative reference for the production, trade and consumption of biofuels, but a myriad of laws, agreements and standards of different origins. This means that in order to understand how actors in the biofuel field behave, we cannot focus on a single binding set of rules dictated and enforced by the state; instead, we have to consider a diversity of rules and standards. These differ in how binding they are, what their origin is and which institutions promote or enforce them.

This is not to say that states are no longer important in regulating biofuel activities and that all rule-making power in this field has shifted to market actors. Generally speaking we can distinguish five governance actors in biofuel production alongside national state institutions: 1. sub-national state institutions, 2. international organizations (e.g. the Food and Agriculture Organization and the World Trade Organization), 3. round-tables and other certification organizations, 4. environmental and fair trade non-governmental organizations (NGOs), and 5. hybrid institutions in the form of public-private partnerships (1). The nature, constituency and position of these institutions determine their relative governance authority. They are the ones linking global energy and climate change discourses to grounded activities in production areas, by providing different forms of regulation.

Analytical structures that may help us to understand the multi-level governance processes in which these institutions are involved are the global commodity chain (2, 3) and the global production network (4).

I will begin with the global commodity chain. This is a series of processes that starts with a raw material (a commodity) and ends with the consumption of a product made from the original material. It includes supporting processes, such as financing and advertising. The analysis of global commodity chains initially focused on the power “lead firms” exercise in the chain and how such power changes over time. The main distinction in this type of analysis is the one between buyer- and producer-driven commodity chains (2). However, other scholars have started to consider which “sites” of rule-making influence the global commodity chain, and how the actors mentioned above are active in these sites, in order to better explain the division of power in global commodity chains (3).

The idea of a global production network (GPN) was developed as an alternative to the global commodity chain, because the latter is too simplistic in its linearity and because a commodity is too general a category to refer to the kinds of products generated in the global economy (4, p. 440). Yet, it is an extension of, rather than an alternative to, the original model. A GPN can be broadly defined as the globally organized nexus of functions and operations of all kinds of firms and institutions through which goods and services are produced, distributed and consumed (4). One could also say that a GPN puts together a global commodity chain and the networks in which it is embedded. GPN analysis therefore draws attention to the relationship between the global commodity chain and its context. Defining how these networks are constituted thus becomes extremely important.

Starting with a global commodity chain and then developing it into a GPN helps us to draw up an inventory of the multi-level governance processes linking global energy and climate change discourses to grounded activities in production areas. Having constructed the global biofuel production networks, one can explore how the actors in the network (national government institutions, sub-national government institutions, international agencies, certification institutions, NGOs and public-private partnerships) translate global discourses into governance. This governance takes many forms: from international agreements and national law to modes of conduct, and from contracts between firms and farmers to experts’ PowerPoint presentations. In a more in-depth article Vel and Bedner (5) visualized the activities in a biofuel production network in combination with the elements of governance thusly:


Examples of how this can be applied in practice are presented in other parts of this publication, for example, the articles about mandatory blending targets, and carbon credits in Sikka.


  1. A. P. J. Mol, Environmental authorities and biofuel controversies, Environmenal Politics 19(1), 61-79 (2010).
  2. G. Gereffi, M. Korzeniewicz, Eds., Commodity Chains and Global Capitalism (Praeger, Westport, CT, 1994).
  3. F. Snyder, Governing economic globalisation: Global legal pluralism and European Law. European Law Journal 5(Special Issue on Law and Globalisation), 334-374 (1999).
  4. J. Henderson, P. Dicken, M. Hess, N. Coe, H. W. C Yeung, ‘Global production networks and the analysis of economic development, Review of International Political Economy 9(3), 436-464 (2002).
  5. J. A. C. Vel, A. W. Bedner, Addressing a “globalized social”: Mobilization of law in global networks with reference to biofuel production in Indonesia, in D. Feenan (ed.), Exploring the “Socio” of Socio-Legal Studies, pp. 157-180 (Palgrave Macmillan, Basingstoke, 2013).

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