In 2015, the United Nations (UN) defined and adopted the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), in order to reduce social inequalities and protect the planet. Bioeconomy is a field with great potential for impact within this framework, as it affects the three pillars of sustainability:
- Its use of biological resources from various sectors makes it possible to reduce its environmental footprint, generating more sustainable products and energy.
- It is also more economically sustainable, as it adds value to residues, which can be marketed as raw materials.
- In addition, the bioeconomy impacts society by creating new jobs and spreading awareness of the environmental and social state of the world.
The UN has no legislative power, so the SDGs act as a compass to align national plans with countries’ international commitments. Furthermore, in explaining how the SDGs will be achieved, the UN recognizes the importance of the contribution of all stakeholders (including civil society and the private sector). Therefore, the successful implementation of the bioeconomy, as well as the achievement of the SDGs by 2030, implies a reshaping of personal, national and international policies and actions.
At the European level, the European Union (EU) has developed various programs to foster bioeconomy adoption and innovation, such as the European Green Deal: a package of policy initiatives a package of policy initiatives for the EU to perform an ecological transition, achieving climate neutrality by 2050. All 27 EU countries must comply by adapting their national legislation. After adopting these measures, the EU needs to assess the state and trends of the bioeconomy. In this context, the European Commission (EC) is funding the European project BioMonitor.
BioMonitor has developed standards to quantify the size and state of development of the bioeconomy. With the obtained results, the project has described the effect of national policies on the materialization of future scenarios of bioeconomy development. In this policy brief, BioMonitor classifies policies into:
- Hand-in-hand: the EU works closely with other global players. The worldwide scale of the measures, as well as greater sense of responsibility and social involvement of the regions promoting change, enables the globalization of the bioeconomy and the adoption of fostering measures throughout the world.
- BioEco-logical resilience: global actions are directed consensually and without hesitation towards reforming energy markets and strengthening climate policies, creating a more ecologically and economically resilient society.
- Go-it-alone: the EU maintains the European Green Deal targets for 2030 and 2050, leading the efficient use of resources for a circular and sustainable economy in the different sectors while other international players desist in pursuing bioeconomy. Agricultural, forestry and aquaculture biomass is valorized in industrial and energy applications.
- Drill-baby-drill: global consumption continues to follow a “take-make-dispose” trend and is dependent on fossil fuels. Current policies favoring the bioeconomy and climate change mitigation are sidelined.
In parallel, the EC Joint Research Centre (JRC) has described four possible states of the bioeconomy after the end of the European Green Deal (2050) based on the degree of citizen collaboration and awareness and the implemented policies. Below, we review the scenarios described by the JRC, relating them to the policies described by the BioMonitor project. The image below, an adaptation of the BioMonitor policy brief, indicates the link between the JRC ranking (brown) and BioMonitor (green).
Do it together: Hand-in-hand
These are the ideal scenarios. The social mass is aware of the importance of achieving the SDGs and actively participates in the changes. There is a willingness to transform. Moreover, national and international policies support them, facilitating the transition from the current model to one where the bioeconomy is a main driver. States outside the European Union are also working with this goal in mind, which translates into a global impact on the environment and society.
Do it ourselves: BioEco-Resilience
These scenarios would occur if cooperation and willingness for social and state action were not matched by the policies implemented. For example, if customers were increasingly aware of the importance of proximity consumption, but there were no incentives for small businesses that base their sales on their close environment. In these cases, society is trying to promote a change in market focus with changes in consumption habits and levels. If such differences are sufficiently noticeable, it is possible to steer the system towards more sustainable practices. However, it is a slower and more laborious shift than if reinforced by far-reaching policies.
Do it for us: Go-it-alone
Coherent local, national, and European policies are adopted that promote the bioeconomy at the personal level, in small-scale businesses and in large companies. The change of practices is lead and given benefits, causing the different economic sectors to transition towards greater social and ecological sustainability. However, the social majority is reluctant to reduce its consumption, reducing the environmental benefits of the measures. Moreover, countries outside the European Union pursue these social and environmental objectives to a lesser or no extent. This drastically reduces the total achievable impact.
Do what is unavoidable: Drill-baby-drill
Consumption habits are maintained (use and throw away unsustainable products), intensifying production. Non-renewable resources, such as fossil fuels, continue to be exploited for the most part. The bioeconomy represents a stronghold of activities unable to cope with the impact of the rest of the economic activities. The political measures adopted are palliative in the face of climate and social crises, not proactive. Countries outside the European Union follow these same precepts, preventing the SDGs from being achieved.
These analyses indicate that both personal and national positions can impact social and environmental well-being. This implies that awareness-raising activities and education are key to effectively implementing the bioeconomy, and mitigating the environmental damage resulting from the current production style.
On the other hand, it demonstrates the importance of legislating in line with the SDGs to drive the transition to a more equitable world and care for the planet. Damage mitigation policies can be complementary to, but not a substitute for, prevention policies. They should be promoted at the regional, national and international levels.