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Tropentag, September 20 - 22, 2017 in Bonn

"Future Agriculture: Social-ecological transitions and bio-cultural shifts"

Life Cycle Thinking in Governance: The Case Study of Bioplastic Production in Thailand

Jan Janosch Förster, Neus Escobar

University of Bonn, Center for Development Studies (ZEF), Germany


Bioeconomy is presented as a viable alternative to our fossil based economy, by switching to renewable biological resources in a wide range of economic sectors. It promotes the use of biomass not only for food, feed and energy purposes, but also for production of different bio-based materials, e.g bio-polymers. Besides the development of new conversion technologies, this will require the mobilisation of increasing amounts of biomass, triggering necessary adjustments along supply chains. A large number of actors can potentially be involved, from the stages of biomass production, extraction, processing and manufacturing up until a final product or service is created. Hence, institutional and regulatory frameworks, as well as policy and legal structures, have to be in place and enforced for the new products to deliver overall sustainability gains. A comprehensive analysis of the governance mechanisms and processes anticipated to govern emerging value chains is needed to reduce resulting systemic complexities and uncertainties.
An analytical tool is developed based on the implementation of life cycle thinking into multi-level governance approaches. The production of polylactic acid (PLA) from sugarcane in Thailand is taken as a case study, as this stands out as one of the few pathways currently carried out at commercial scale. The proposed framework consists of a) specifying the supply chain configuration and system boundaries; b) defining the inventory of stakeholders and institutions within these boundaries at the institutional, regional, and international levels. A roadmap of socio-economic actions and socio-political accounts is obtained as a result, corresponding to the interplay of structures and agents within specific contexts involved in the life cycle of PLA. Our proposed theoretical themes for analysing governance comprise structures, agents and contexts. Preliminary outcomes serve to identify significant governance gaps, mainly related to national regulations, with the risk for pushing social and environmental pressures further down the supply chain. A set of themes to reflect governance effectiveness of alternative bio-based pathways will be subsequently developed, corresponding to the impact analysis phase. In this way, this process-oriented framework for life cycle governance analysis can contribute to setting the boundaries for sustainable transformation pathways in the bioeconomy.

Keywords: Bioeconomy, bioplastics, governance, life cycle analysis, supply chain governance, sustainability

Contact Address: Neus Escobar, University of Bonn, Center for Development Research (ZEF) - Inst. for Food and Resource Economics (ILR), Nussalle 21, 53115 Bonn, Germany, e-mail: neus.escobar@ilr.uni-bonn.de

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