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Comparison of Rural Development Impacts of Bioenergy in Italy and Norway

The WP-PhD works on bioenergy development and sustainability outcomes in two regional case studies, i.e. Emilia Romagna (Italy) and Oppland-Hedmark (Norway).
Sustainability is understood in the light of The Triple Bottom Line of Sustainability (TBL) (Elkington, 1997). Therefore, the PhD project seeks to combine economic, social and environmental outcomes to evaluate the sustainability of bioenergy development. Specifically, it uses qualitative system dynamics modeling (i.e. causal loop diagrams and stock&flow diagrams) to investigate the causal mechanisms of bioenergy development that lead to certain TBL outcomes in the case studies. These cases have experienced a quite high degree of bioenergy development but which triple bottom line outcomes seem not to foster long-term sustainability. Yet, the Italian case study presents lower scores of sustainability compared to the Norwegian case which overall seems to score better on the TBL variables. Therefore, the questions addressed by the comparative analysis are: what structures and causal mechanisms lay behind bioenergy development that may explain different triple bottom line outcomes in the case studies? What typologies may be identified that explain the causal paths that led to unsustainable TBL outcomes in the case studies? The goal of the comparative analysis is to contribute to the understanding of the causal processes that may hinder the TBL sustainability of bioenergy development. Eventually this will have important policy implications.

Background studies that support this research project focus on the link between rural development and bioenergy production (e.g. OECD, 2012; Cavicchi et al. 2012; Bryden et al, 2013); bioenergy production and sustainability (e.g. environmental sustainability and social acceptance) (for instance Domac et al. 2005; Buchholz et al. 2007, 2009; Batel et al. 2013; Thornley et al. 2009; Geels and Raven, 2006; Wüstenhagen et al. 2007; Carrosio, 2013; Mangoyama 2011; Upreti, 2004; Upreti and Van der Horst, 2004, Walter and Gutscher, 2010); bioenergy and institutional theory (e.g. Albrecht 2014). The methodological background is based on the TOP-MARD project - “Towards a Policy Model of Multifunctional Agriculture and Rural Development” –in which several scholars analyzed (e.g. among others Bryden, Johnson, Thomson and Ferenczi) “how agriculture multifunctionality in any given territory affects the sustainable development and quality of life of that territory, and how different policies affect these relationships” (Bryden, Arandia, Johnson, 2008, p.6). They made use of system dynamics to account for the endogeneity of environmental and social outcomes of agriculture activities, besides economic issues, following the idea of the triple bottom line. This approach goes beyond the traditional approach that sees environment and society as external factors that do not directly affect economic development (Bryden, Arandia, Johnson, 2008, p.6). Therefore they tried to model TBL sustainability.

The research process employs a multi-methodological framework (see for instance Yearworth and White, 2013; Brady and Collier, 2010; Laws and McLeod, 2006; Bennet and Braumoeller, 2005; Mingers and Rosenhead, 2004; Mingers and Brocklesby, 1997; Bryant, 1988) that combines qualitative system dynamics modeling, institutional analysis and cognitive mapping within the framework of a case study design. This multi-methodological framework has the potential to account for the multiple and feedback causal processes that underlie bioenergy development in the case studies. System dynamics and soft systems thinking (see for instance Sterman, 2000, 2002; Forrester, 1960; Lane 1999, 2001, 2008; Senge, 1990; Haraldsson 2000; Luna-Reyes&Andersen, 2003; Checkland, 1981; Checkland and Scholes, 1990; Ford, 2010) are used to map causal mechanisms as they emerge from the interaction between stakeholders’ decisions and institutional structures (e.g. policies, regulations, tacit norms, etc.). Cognitive mapping is part of the analysis that employs the systems thinking approach. Institutional analysis supports the investigation of policies, networks, regulations, norms and governance that influence stakeholders’ behaviours and decisions. Main research methods used for data collection are: semi-structured interviews with stakeholders in the case studies (e.g. farmers, bioenergy entrepreneurs, forest owners, municipalities, regional-county politicians, business organizations, sector organizations, NGOs, etc.); literature review; policy analysis; other official documents, reports and statistics analysis. These data is used to select variables for qualitative system dynamics modeling – causal loop and stock & flow diagrams.

The first paper on bioenergy in Emilia Romagna was submitted to Global Environmental Change at the beginning of September. The analysis shows that unsustainable TBL outcomes are the result of interconnected causal processes that include: incentives – profit – biogas production (i.e. only transmission of bioelectricity to the national grid, whereas bioheat is dispersed and biogas is not used in transports); biomass supply and farmland demand-price; traffic and particulate due do transport of biomass, bed smells, percolation; social opposition and weak cooperation among local actors. Policy solutions should account for this interconnectedness and be not only limited to new environmental regulations, as it is the case in Emilia Romagna. Interventions could primarily address biomass supply chain and cooperation among biogas producers, local inhabitants and municipalities.

The investigation of the second case is still on going. Much research has already been done on bioenergy in Norway from economic, institutional and environmental point of views. This research will integrate into a causal model most of the issues that have emerged in previous studies and during the interviews. The goal is to look at causal processes that underlie bioenergy development in Norway and produce a more comprehensive understanding of obstacles to its further development. Effective solutions to support bioenergy development and the bioeconomy in Norway may be based on triple bottom line considerations and not just on a feasibility point of view.

At the current stage, typologies of causal mechanisms based on the comparison of the two case studies have not been developed yet.