Bioeconomy policy monitor

Liz Gyekye

Bioeconomy Strategy 2, European Commission, October 2018

The EU presented its updated “Bioeconomy Strategy and Action Plan” in October 2018 to help build a sustainable Europe. Here, in our first policy monitor analysis, BMI’s Liz Gyekye takes a detailed look at what the new proposals mean in practice.

Why are policymakers doing this?

Global challenges like climate change, land and ecosystem degradation, coupled with a growing population are forcing continents to seek new ways of producing and consuming products. In order to tackle these challenges, policymakers are implementing new strategies to help people to maintain a sustainable bioeconomy.

As a result of these issues, the European Commission updated its 2012 Bioeconomy Strategy to address these challenges through a set of 14 concrete actions, which are being implemented throughout 2019.

What are the 14 actions?

  • To mobilise stakeholders in development and deployment of sustainable bio-based solutions
  • To launch a €100m Circular Bioeconomy Fund
  • To analyse enablers and bottlenecks for the deployment of bio-based innovations
  • To promote and develop standards, labels and market uptake of bio-based products
  • To facilitate the development of new sustainable biorefineries
  • To develop new biodegradable products, including bio-based plastic substitutes
  • To launch a ‘Strategic Deployment Agenda’ for sustainable food and farming systems, forestry and bio-based products
  • To launch pilot actions for the development of bioeconomies in rural, coastal and urban areas
  • To support regions and Member States to develop Bioeconomy Strategies
  • To promote education, training and skills across the bioeconomy
  • To enhance knowledge on biodiversity and ecosystems
  • To monitor progress towards a sustainable bioeconomy
  • To promote good practices to operate the bioeconomy within safe ecological limits
  • To enhance the benefits of biodiversity in primary production

How did we get here?

The EU’s 2012 Bioeconomy Strategy was unveiled by the bloc’s “Innovation Union” and “Resource-efficient Europe” initiatives. The Strategy promoted five sustainable economy objectives, but its main aim was to pave “the way to a more innovative, resource efficient and competitive society that reconciles food security with the sustainable use of renewable resources for industrial purposes, while ensuring environmental protection”.

In September 2018, in their letter of intent to the Presidencies of the European Council and Parliament, European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker and First Vice-President Frans Timmermans made the announcement that they would update the 2012 Strategy as part of the Commission’s priority to boost jobs, growth and investment in the EU.

On 11 October 2018, the European Commission launched its updated Bioeconomy Strategy.

Commenting on the launch of the Strategy last year, Commissioner for Research, Science and Innovation, Carlos Moedas, said: “The EU aims to lead the way in turning waste, residue and discards into high-value products, green chemicals, feed and textiles.”

How will this policy strengthen and scale-up the bio-based sector and unlock investments and markets?

The EU will aim to implement the 14 key actions as mentioned above.

Analysing action one, the EU will aim to intensify the mobilisation of public and private stakeholders, in research, demonstration and deployment of bio-based solutions. This includes, for example, the promotion of technologies such as artificial intelligence and innovative solutions that are suitable for small-scale deployment and easy to replicate.

According to the Commission, the EU’s public private partnership on bio-based industries has been instrumental in the development and deployment of new bio-based value chains, based on the use of renewable resources including waste. This action will result in the development of a tool-box of solutions to process biomass into bio-based products that will support the modernisation and the renewal of the EU’s industries in a number of areas.

Elsewhere, to realise its potential, the bio-based sector needs to be further promoted for its positive impacts, and to be on an equal footing with market and regulatory conditions vis-à-vis fossil-based industries. In order to carry out this action, the Commission will identify bottlenecks, enablers, and gaps affecting bio-based innovations and provide voluntary guidance on their deployment at scale, with a view to promoting existing standards and labels and assessing the need for developing new ones, particularly for bio-based products.

The Commission will also help to mobilise key actors in the plastics value chain to support the development of substitutes to fossil resources, which will include bio-based, recyclable and marine biodegradable substitutes for plastic.

The Commission also acknowledges that the systematic and cross-cutting nature of new and emerging bioeconomy approaches and new value chains will need new education and skills. According to the Commission, the piloting of vocational and higher education curricula, the involvement of social partners and the development of entrepreneurship programmes will contribute this action.

Who does the Bioeconomy Strategy effect?

It will impact on anybody who is involved in the bioeconomy. This includes all primary production sectors that use and produce biological resources (i.e. agriculture, forestry, fisheries and aquaculture) and all economic and industrial sectors that use biological resources and processes to produce food, feed, bio-based products, energy and services.

The initiative also aims to create new jobs, especially for those living in rural and coastal areas.

What’s the reaction from industry stakeholders?

Commenting last year about the updated Strategy, Marc Palahí, director of trade body European Forest Institute (EFI), praised the document stating that it was “well balanced” and had “a transformative vision and strategic framework for action”.

He added: “(Now), it is important that it clearly connects to the circular economy and also reflects on recent key developments like the Paris Climate Agreement and the UN Sustainable Development Goals. In addition, I am very happy to see that key forest based opportunities are explicitly identified, but especially that you (the EC) perceive a “forest way of thinking” along the document as the sustainability of the bioeconomy is framed within the ecological boundaries of our ecosystems and biodiversity and ecosystem services become central to its development.”

BBIA Managing Director David Newman told BMI: “The key to the bioeconomy working is policy. If you look at Italy and France, they have made simple decisions that have led to the promotion of bio-based materials and helped to spark off investment into bio-based businesses. Strong policies are needed if we are to compete against a heavily subsidised fossil fuel industry.”

Where are we now and what next?

A European Commission spokesman told BMI: “Work on the 14 measures is in full swing, with several actions already bearing fruit. For example, the Commission has already published a call to ‘Support regions and Member States to develop Bioeconomy Strategies’, with a focus on Central and Eastern Europe through the BIOEAST initiative.

“The selected project should begin after the summer break. We already presented another call related to this priority, entitled ‘Public engagement for the Bioeconomy’, at the European Commission’s Info Day on 4 July. And the European Circular Bioeconomy Fund is planned to be launched during the Commission’s Research and Information Days in September (24-26th).”

In a statement published in the Strategy last year, the Commission also maintained that it would report regularly on the progress of its action plan and said that it was “committed to adapting or discontinuing activities that do not contribute to the objectives of the Strategy in a satisfactory manner”.

Further reading:

Updated Bioeconomy Strategy  – Source: European Commission

Author – Liz Gyekye, deputy editor at Bio Market Insights.

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