The EU biofuels market is stimulating expansion of oil palm plantations in Indonesia. Little research has yet examined the impacts on water resources arising from this large-scale land use conversion to cultivation of biofuel feedstock or positioned contextual water resource governance in Indonesian locales in a wider political ecology of European climate politics.

Through the concept of “hybrid accountability”, the authors examine primary evidence from an extensive action research process in Central Kalimantan Province, Indonesian Borneo, to assess whether the EU’s Renewable Energy Directive and existing certification schemes offer a way to improve the accountability of market actors and promote sustainable water resource management.

They conclude that these initiatives have had no bearing on safeguarding local livelihoods and the water resources they depend on, with governance mechanisms largely failing to address people’s grievances. Rather, the EU’s policies on biofuels have supported a de-politicization of what needs to be seen as “distributional water politics”.

Furthermore, certification schemes such as the Roundtable for Sustainable Palm Oil offer, at present, only cosmetic tools and are insufficient to address deep structural governance issues. The authors argue that further hybridization of market-based certification and governmental regulation should be designed with the purpose of providing new transnational recourse mechanisms and remedies for affected communities.

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