The ad-hoc Network of Experts on Bioeconomy created to contribute to the European Commission’s Knowledge Centre for Bioeconomy has synthesised knowledge from different sources to inform policymaking on the future transitions for a Bioeconomy towards Sustainable Development and a Climate-Neutral Economy.
This is part of a forward-looking analysis promoted by the European Commission’s Knowledge Centre for Bioeconomy (KCB) to explore transitions towards a sustainable, clean and resource-efficient bioeconomy. In the report, the external experts reviewed and synthesised relevant knowledge and data on the current bioeconomy landscape and research & innovation developments, with a view to identifying key drivers and trends for a bioeconomy able to contribute to reaching the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals and EU climate objectives. As highlighted in the analysis, a circular and sustainable bioeconomy can be a core instrument for the European Green Deal in the post-COVID-19 era, making the EU more resilient and competitive.
A transformative bioeconomy within a post-COVID 19 economy
The recent unprecedented crisis has brought to surface a much wider role that the bioeconomy can have to diversify supplies for food, feed, and raw materials, contribute to circularity and climate neutrality whilst at the same time create employment and foster rural development. According to the report, a fresh perspective is needed to foster resilience and smooth the transition to a circular post-COVID 19 economy within the framework of the European Green Deal and the European Recovery Plan, in line with the EU Bioeconomy Strategy objectives. This implies embracing a transformative logic focussed on turning current challenges for local economic resilience into opportunities for diversification through deploying the bioeconomy widely. The social component is flagged for careful revision too: from the target to protect under-developed economies and low-income population towards employment and value-generation of bio-based value chains.
Drivers and trends of the bioeconomy
The report identifies key drivers and trends according to the normative assumption that a sustainable and circular EU bioeconomy should be successfully implemented. The analysis indicates that bioenergy would become less relevant until 2050, while biomaterials and ecosystem services will gain significantly, strengthening EU competitiveness, creating employment and enhancing the health of ecosystems. Biomass for construction materials, fibre, food and feed, furniture and textiles is expected to grow, especially innovative biomaterials such as bio-based chemicals, lubricants, and bio-based plastics, which offer high value added per mass unit. Despite the impressive potential of wind and solar, the authors consider that there will be a complementary role of bioenergy and electricity until 2050, with biomass providing grid balancing services, and helping sectors that are difficult to decarbonise through electricity, e.g. aviation, heavy duty and maritime transport, and high-temperature industrial processes.
Beyond drivers and trends: shaping the next generation Europe
The experts highlight how unleashing the potential of the analysed drivers and trends towards the desired transformation of the bioeconomy requires appropriate policy integration. With the European Green Deal, important steps of integration are underway regarding key EU policies, especially biodiversity, circularity, climate change, food systems, forest protection and restoration, and renewable energy. The bioeconomy needs to be part of this integration.
Towards an inclusive BioWEconomy
Building on the United Nations 2030 Agenda that calls for transformative change, the term transformation is frequently used throughout the report. According to the experts, the guiding principle of being transformative is to acknowledge that various trade-offs and possible synergies are subject to societal decision making, which shouldn’t be guided by neoliberal economic logic alone: market aspects are one component of decision making, but not necessarily the dominant one. This implies a shift in the framing of the three sustainability dimensions: the base should be the biosphere, which sustains society, which in turn is served by the economy. Such a vision – which is already found in the Just transition concept of the European Green Deal – should inspire an inclusive transition towards a sustainable, circular and transformative bioeconomy, in which social aspects are of high importance and for which a new term is proposed: BioWEconomy.
The realisation of such an important transformation will require many challenges to be addressed: therefore, the authors collect core questions relevant for further research concerning a circular, sustainable, and transformative BioWEconomy to inform the direction of the upcoming Horizon Europe Research and Innovation Framework Programme, and respective work under the Green Deal.
Knowledge Synthesis Final Report: Future transitions for the Bioeconomy towards Sustainable Development and a Climate-Neutral Economy