30 Jun 2011
Lock-in Situations in the Global Debates on Climate Change, Biotechnology and International Trade
NCCR Trade Regulation Working Paper No. 2011/21, authored by Philipp Aerni.
The problem of man-made global climate change is strongly related to land-use practices and the global dependence on fossil fuels. Biotechnology is a platform technology that may help reduce greenhouse gas emissions in agriculture, improve adaptation to climate change, offer new sources of renewable energy and transform the current petrochemical industry into a less energy intensive biological industry. Yet, this potential is hardly ever discussed in the public debate on climate change because it is currently not associated with the term ‘cleantech’ that is used to describe climate-friendly technology. In our study we investigate the perceptions and interests of the main stakeholders involved in the global debate on biotechnology and
climate change in order to better understand why ‘cleantech’ is currently not linked to ‘biotech’. For that purpose, we designed a global stakeholder survey which was completed online by 59 respondents representing 40 core institutions in the global sustainability debate. The response rate was above 90%. The survey results reveal that most stakeholders even in the climate change debate regard the potential of biotechnology to be significant. Yet, the results also show that one of the stakeholders that is assessed to be key in the biotechnology as well as the climate change debate and of central importance in the formation of global public opinion is also firmly opposed to the use of modern biotechnology to address climate change problems. The survey findings also indicate that the perception of biotechnology depends to a large extent on the educational background and the institutional affiliation of the respective respondent. Despite the generally favourable view of modern biotechnology as a tool to address climate change problems it is unlikely that it will be considered as being part of ‘cleantech’ any time soon unless influential opponents would change their attitudes. This
is however not going to happen since the political and psychological costs to change its mind would be too high. It amounts to a typical lock-in situation.