David Harnesk

Doctoral Student


The science is certain about the significant dangers of human-induced global warming and that substantial reductions of carbon emissions from road traffic are necessary to mitigate the detrimental and unevenly distributed impacts of climate change. As a supra-national authority, the European Union (EU) has put much political faith into substituting fossil fuel with biofuels as a viable alternative to reduce carbon emissions in the transport sector. When seen as agrofuels they even represent a geopolitical response to multiple crises. But biofuels have also become deeply criticized by academics and activists alike for being harbourers of adverse social impacts on rural livelihoods in the Global South and for not living up to environmental claims. Despite persistent critique, EU policy-makers have, through biofuel regulation, adopted the position that managerial and self-regulatory approaches like private certification systems and sustainability standards are sufficient safeguards against these impacts.

The problem that my PhD thesis addresses is dual. First, it is deeply problematic that biofuels, in spite of their dubious environmental claims, are persistently pursued as a means for climate change mitigation, especially since this impedes the implementation of alternative meaningful carbon emission reduction measures in the transport energy system. Second, the expansion of biofuel markets exacerbates social problems faced by a rural population in the Global South, especially as it tends to shift prime land-use towards agricultural intensification. In the thesis, I apply a solutions-oriented research approach to the dual problem, and seek to answer how geographical aspects of energy may explain why liquid biofuels are persistently pursued as an alternative to fossil fuels. To deal with the inescapable materiality of energy and the need for social change, I develop an approach to sustainability science that draws on emancipatory social science and critical realism.


Since 2012 I have been teaching and supervising students for undergraduate and master courses in a variety of courses at Lund University. These include:

  • Energy and Sustainability
  • Climate, Science and Society
  • Gender and Sustainability in Theory and Everyday Life
  • Environmental Studies and Sustainability Science: Master’s Thesis
  • Governance of Sustainability
  • Economy and Sustainability
  • Social Science Lab
  • Methods for Climate Risk Management
  • Sustainable development from a local, regional and global perspective
  • Environmental Science: Industrial Environmental Economics
  • Environmental Science: Instruments for preventative environmental protection

Recent research outputs

View All (6)