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In Other Words: Opinion of the German Bioeconomy Council

Have you ever wondered what other countries outside of the US are thinking about the biobased economy? Following is a word-for-word copy of what the "German Bioeconomy Council" thinks should be the road ahead. You can access the original document here:

Decided at the 8th session of the Council, 14.5.2014


A sustainability-oriented bioeconomy can contribute vital solutions to the serious ecological and economic challenges of the future. However, such a bioeconomy will not develop automatically. Regulatory, social and technology policies are needed to move towards an ecologically sustainable economy that is based on innovation, renewable resources and efficient production processes. The Bioeconomy promotes process and product innovations with consumption and societal expectations in mind.

Bioeconomy at the heart of sustainable development

Originally, the concept of a biobased economy was promoted in the light of expected rapidly depleting due to energy efficiency improvements, this argument has become less pressing but it nevertheless remains strategically essential. Without major adjustments, the continued emission of greenhouse gases and the related changes in climate conditions will irreversibly damage the global ecosystem and will involve incalculable economic risks. The notion of a sustainability-oriented bioeconomy thus involves much more than a petrol substitution strategy. The bioeconomy is an integral element of an ecological-economic transition to a post-fossil age and offers unique opportunities to ensure sustainable development and long-term economic competitiveness in Germany.

Technology and demand are driving the bioeconomy

Technological innovations and evolving consumer preferences form the basis for the global development of the bioeconomy. Products and services with technical, social and ecological benefits enable innovative goods or significantly improve production methods. Promising examples are new packaging materials, bulk chemicals or textiles that are based on biological processes, made with innovative renewable materials and make use of carbon technology. These innovations result from the constant, rapid progress in the life-sciences and related knowledge areas. The combination of new biological processes and know-how with innovations in the agricultural sciences and in information, medical or production engineering is especially promising. Moreover, the bioeconomy is also gaining momentum in the definition and design of urban spaces. Seen against the background of Germany’s high-tech and innovation landscape, the bioeconomy provides opportunities for developing unique technological propositions and thus offers the German economy further opportunities for the future.
In this context, however, the organization of the bioeconomy also necessitates continuous monitoring trade and consumption.

For a country like Germany, which is technologically advanced but poor in raw materials, the bioeconomy provides unique opportunities to maintain its economic competitiveness while preserving a clean, secure and liveable environment for future generations. Food security and the sustainable use of land and water resources are of special importance to the bioeconomy. It is expected that the concentration of harmful greenhouse gases in the atmosphere will continue to increase because the use of fossil resources remains profitable due to ignoring the adverse external effects. This is already having a negative impact on the global ecosystem and contributes to growing volatility in the raw materials markets. The burden of these adverse consequences is mostly borne by developing economies that do not benefit from the economic success enjoyed in the industrialized and emerging countries. Soil erosion and increasingly scarce land and water resources increase the costs of agricultural production. Changes in habitat use and the spread of alien species threaten biodiversity globally. In coming years, food demand is expected to rise due a growing and wealthier world population. Giving primacy to food security, the bioeconomy therefore will have to deal with the scarce supply of renewable resources in a responsible and efficient way.

Domestic action with global responsibility

Germany, which has benefited largely from the economic boom in the emerging countries, assumes a special responsibility in setting the course for a biobased economy. The Government has taken a corresponding position and is committed to consistent action by adopting the ”National Research Strategy BioEconomy 2030” and the ”National Policy Strategy on BioEconomy”. Meanwhile many other countries have also developed national bioeconomy strategies. The Bioeconomy Council advises the German Government on how to successfully design the necessary structural changes. This includes building international relations with appropriate initiatives, such as international partnerships and agreements, to develop and promote more sustainable bioeconomic systems. Particular attention will need to be paid to international cooperation efforts in research and development. For the Bioeconomy Council, this results in a perspective of domestic action with global responsibility.

Taking the “right” path to the bioeconomy

Besides the “how”, it is necessary to enquire about the pace of the transition to the bioeconomy. With a view to global climate change, the fossil fuel use should be reduced as fast as possible. Producing and consuming bioeconomic products and services is, however, only one part of the transition. The use of petrol, gas and coal to produce energy will only be reduced gradually and become more environmentally friendly as a result of improved techniques. Therefore, the expansion of renewable energy sources is part of the system transition. In this respect, feedstock should mainly play a role in energy storage and not primarily in energy generation. The development of the domestic economy is linked to global economic and technological trends. For this reason, policy makers should refrain from setting high national expansion targets for the use of biomass feedstock and refrain from promoting such expansion with appropriate subsidies. Otherwise, the German economy would be disproportionately burdened in the short-run. A promising bioeconomy strategy rather focuses on efficiency considerations, reduced ecological footprints and reduced per capita resource consumption. Applying new technologies and better organisation can contribute to improved competitiveness and reduced use of natural resources. However, bioeconomy is not sustainable per se: new processes have to meet the highest standards in terms of economic and resource efficiency. Feedstock also has to be produced in greater quantities and more efficiently consumed, since it is already regionally scarce.2 In defining the structural change, the bioeconomy policy needs a long-term approach, a “critical pace of innovation”  and a continuing and thorough reflection on goals and instruments. This can be supported by a participative approach involving a broad societal dialogue. Initiating and shaping this dialogue is one of the tasks of the Bioeconomy Council. Taking a systemic perspective, the bioeconomy council seeks to intensify the societal dialogue and to provide cross-sector and trans-technological policy advice. The detailed specification of areas of promising actions based on the ”National Research Strategy BioEconomy 2030“ and the ”National Policy Strategy on Bio Economy“ will be key areas of this advisory work. Due to the issues referred to above and global interdependencies, it appears necessary to respond in good time and “in the right dose” to the changing conditions (global shifts in demand, resource scarcity, new technological developments, difficult climate and environmental conditions). The main focus is on optimizing the support for the bioeconomy over the time.

To foster the development of the bioeconomy, the following recommendations are:

(1) The transition of the economy to biobased value-chains and closed material cycles requires active promotion and intervention. This involves in particular measures and incentives to optimize biobased value-chains.
2) Due to the dynamics in global conditions, the definition of a promotion strategy should respect the following: resource conflicts and undesirable developments should be recorded in good time and potential measures for correction should be taken. Research and innovation policy programs must include mechanisms ensuring foresight, impact assessment and institutional learning.
3) Regulations, standards and labels are important instruments for developing and boosting the supply of and demand for biobased products. Potentially negative effects of state interventions should be assessed in advance and need to be monitored subsequently on a regular basis.
4) Any political investment in the biobased economy and in innovations, i.e. the agricultural and industrial policy efforts, should focus on technological leadership in promising markets. This also includes measures to promote the mobilization and improved access to innovation capital for bioeconomy oriented enterprises.
5) Education and research capacities are the basis for developing the bioeconomy and need to be expanded. Among other things, this includes designing new study programs and considering the bioeconomy in the dual system of vocational education and academic studies (Duales Ausbildungssystem). In particular, the bioeconomy requires interdisciplinary approaches in research, which should be prioritized in support programs.
(6) The bioeconomy has the potential to reduce the ecological effects caused by using fossil resources. However, it is not free from adverse side-effects if it is promoted or implemented inappropriately. For this purpose, Germany’s existing bioenergy policy needs to be fundamentally revised.
(7) Securing and improving the nutrition of a growing world population is a key issue of the bioeconomy. In this respect, more intense cooperation with emerging and developing economies is recommended.
(8) In a globalized world, it is challenging to leverage the international division of labor and the location-dependent availability of feedstock for the development of a sustainability- oriented bioeconomy in Germany without threatening the sustainability of other economies. For this reason, a sustainability-oriented bioeconomy necessitates the definition of a trade agenda.
(9) Holistic concepts require the promotion of global control mechanisms which include consumption, trade and resource protection.
(10) The route towards the bioeconomy must be acceptable to society and for this reason, opportunities for the participation of civil society should be extended. The reintegration of human economic activity in nature’s cycles is a challenge for the future. The path is not yet fully mapped out. The Bioeconomy Council will support the stakeholders in the task of defining this path and would like to invite all societal groups to participate in shaping the bioeconomy.

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