In 2012, the EU published its Bioeconomy Strategy, with the express intention of paving “the way to a more innovative, resource efficient and competitive society that reconciles food security with the sustainable use of biotic renewable resources for industrial purposes, while ensuring environmental protection”.
In the first Bioeconomy Strategy released in 2012, five main objectives were identified:
- Ensuring food and nutrition security.
- Managing natural resources sustainably.
- Reducing dependence on non-renewable, unsustainable resources whether sourced domestically or from aboard.
- Mitigating and adapting to climate change.
- Strengthening European competitiveness and creating jobs.
These objectives were to be achieved through three broad actions: through investing in research and innovation, increasing engagement with stakeholders, and enhancing market competitiveness. In 2017, a review of the strategy was published, which found that the original objectives of the Strategy still held today, and that the Strategy had “substantially delivered”, promoting the development of local bioeconomy and national bioeconomy strategies and policies, as well as mobilising research and innovation funding. Funding for the bioeconomy has greatly increased, resulting in many research breakthroughs, although there remains much work ahead to translate these developments into marketable products. There has also been policy uptake among member states, with many of the EU’s oldest members implementing their own bioeconomy strategies, although the EU’s “younger” members are lagging behind on this.
Despite these successes, the 2017 review identified multiple issues with the original Strategy:
- A lack of correspondence between the objectives and the actions meant to achieve them.
- A lack of monitoring and assessment framework limited the potential outputs.
- The broad and abundant actions and sub actions lead to a lack of focus.
- Policy coherence and synergies could have been higher.
- Policy context has changed since 2012 therefore the Strategy is no longer as relevant.
Following the review, areas of further development were identified:
- Further mobilisation of investments, including funding from the private sector.
- Increased predictability of the regulatory environment to facilitate further investments.
- Increased coherence among relevant EU policies.
- Increased involvement of Member States, regions and cities.
- Inclusion of fewer, focused actions to deliver on a circular bioeconomy.
- Better monitoring of progress of the bioeconomy as a whole and of the Strategy itself, including appropriate indicators.
- Updated alignment to recent EU and global policy development.
It was identified that the actions of the Bioeconomy Strategy needed to be re-focused in order to achieve the five original objectives, and an update to the Bioeconomy Strategy was released in 2018. One of the major criticisms of the original Strategy – a lack of measurable targets – has been addressed, with each proposed action being accompanied by indicators of success.
The new strategy aims to scale-up Europe’s biobased markets, by facilitating access to investment, both from the private and public sector, as well as identifying regulatory barriers to biobased development, and promoting biobased standards, in order to ensure consumers are better informed, and can have confidence in what they are buying.
There is also significant focus on promoting the bioeconomy at the local scale, aimed primarily at agriculture and forestry, both of which underpin the bioeconomy through provision of feedstocks. With this in mind, there is also a commitment to further understanding the ecological impacts of the bioeconomy, in order to account for the environmental impacts created by industry, including those in the bioeconomy. This goes hand-in-hand with the strategy’s other pledge to foster increased biodiversity, acknowledging that diverse ecosystems provide greater function. As far as agriculture and forestry are concerned, the focus is on increasing soil microbe diversity, and mitigating decline in pollinator populations.
Despite not introducing sweeping changes, this update to the Bioeconomy Strategy is exactly what was needed: a re-focus. The old adage states that if it isn’t broken, don’t fix it, and the original Strategy’s goals were exactly what they needed to be. The principle issue has been solved: the lack of a way to measure the Strategy’s successes. With the addition of defined targets, this will allow progress in the European bioeconomy to be quantified. It is now in the hands of the stakeholders to put the Strategy into practice and deliver a world-leading bioeconomy in Europe.