The scale of the ambition to decouple emissions growth from energy consumption runs counter to 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 long-term policy goals as credible commitments, despite the flexibility and adaptability in policy-making required to achieve them under high political, technological and market uncertainty. This paper compares US and EU biofuels policy processes in these terms. It reveals an intertemporal choice embedded in biofuels policies which tests the capacity to account for future benefits from a low carbon future in current policy processes; if the pathway to their achievement is uncertain and politically contested in the implementation phase, then future benefits may be heavily discounted, shortening policy-maker horizons and rendering the transition process politically vulnerable. © 2012 Policy and Society Associates (APSS).
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