Bioeconomy: an essential part of the solution

/files/images/policy_advice/fotolia_16525101_l_crop2.jpg : 68Kb We are living in a time of accelerated changes and unprecedented global challenges, related to today’s predicament: how to decouple economic growth from environmental degradation. It’s a ‘perfect storm’ - by 2030 the world will need to produce 50 % more food and energy, and 30% more water, whilst mitigating and adapting to climate change. The bioeconomy, particularly the forest-based bioeconomy, is an essential part of the solution.

This has been recognized by the European Union, which has taken important steps to stimulate a transformation of its economy. The Europe 2020 Strategy calls for a bioeconomy as a key element for smart and green growth, based on research and innovation to improve the management of renewable biological resources and open new and diversified markets in food and bio-based products. It is estimated that the EU’s bioeconomy sectors are currently worth €2 trillion in annual turnover and account for more than 22 million jobs (around 9% of the workforce). The forest-based sector represents more than 20% of those figures.

If the 21st century will be, as several scientists predict, the century of biology, as compared to the century of physics that was the 20th century, the forest sector can play an unprecedented role. However, unlocking this potential will need some important strategic developments:

  • An ambitious pan-European forest-based research and innovation area built around new investments in research, enhanced cooperation and coordination of national research organizations and funding programmes, and mobility of researchers.
  • A coherent and well-coordinated forest-related policy framework that addresses existing regulatory and market failures, reinforces cross-sectoral policy interaction and stakeholder engagement.
  • An understanding of forest resources limits and the societal values and trade-offs between different uses.

The potential of the forest-based sector will only be fully realised by working across several disciplines, policy areas and sectors with a strong willingness to jointly transform emerging challenges into opportunities. The bioeconomy is the foremost among them. For example, a recent EFI policy study labelled the current state of the European forest-based sector as one of creative destruction. The production of some traditional forest products (e.g., communication paper) have started to stagnate or decline in Europe. But at the same time, these destructive drivers are forcing the sector to renew and be creative, pushing it in the direction of the bioeconomy. New business opportunities are emerging for the bio-based industries (e.g. linked to energy, textiles, chemicals) and services related to them.

It will be a delicate balancing act to meet demands for bioeconomy products and ecosystem services from the same resources, and efficiently increase what the forest-based sector can deliver. Innovation, policy and forest management will have a key role in pushing back the frontier of what is possible.

Over the next year, we’ll be exploring some of these issues in our policy studies and ThinkForest events. In 2016 we’ll look in-depth at the role of forests and forestry in bioeconomy strategies, for example, and how we can learn from different countries and measure bioeconomic change. More imminently, our Science-policy in Action event in the Sonian Forest, Brussels on 13 October focuses on how forest management can address biodiversity and production concerns. We hope to see you there, to take part in the ongoing discussions.

Marc Palahí, EFI Director

View the presentation given by Marc Palahí, ' European forest research, basis for the bioeconomy' at the 85th anniversary celebration of the Forest Research Institute, Poland.

Photo: Fotolia/silver-john