Bioeconomy: Challenges and opportunities

Briefing 19-01-2017

The bioeconomy refers to the production and extraction of renewable biological resources and their conversion into food and feed, bio-based products and bioenergy. Although primarily based on activities carried out, in some form, for centuries or millennia (such as farming, fisheries or forestry), the bioeconomy emerged in the past decade as a knowledge-driven concept aimed at meeting a number of today's challenges. In the European Union (EU), the bioeconomy sectors have an annual turnover of about €2 trillion and employ between 17 and 19 million people. They use almost three quarters of the EU land area. A stronger bioeconomy could trigger growth and jobs, and reduce dependency on imports. It could contribute to optimising the use of biological resources, which remain finite although they are renewable. However, it could also create competition between uses and technologies at various levels. Besides, the amount of available biomass remains disputed. A bioeconomy could contribute to reducing greenhouse gas emissions and improving public health. However, it could also trigger new greenhouse gas emissions and induce adverse impacts on the environment. The EU policy framework for the bioeconomy is spread across a number of policies (agriculture, forestry, fisheries, climate, circular economy and research). Although a bioeconomy strategy from 2012 aims to ensure policy coherence, inconsistencies remain. The EU provides funding to innovative bioeconomy activities through the framework programme for research (Horizon 2020) and a range of other instruments. The European Parliament has been supportive of the bioeconomy strategy, while highlighting the need for sustainability and policy coherence.