Photo courtesy of the European Commission.Antonio de Guilio said a strategy on the bio-based economy would be proposed in November. Photo by courtesy of the European Commission.EU focus. Stakeholders to a future European Union strategy on the “bio-based” economy appear to have given the thumbs up to the Europen Union bid to encourage resource efficiency and job creation in the €2 trillion-strong sectors that derive their products from biomass, a European Commission official has suggested.

This carries relevance for organisations such as Bio4Energy, since acceptance by society for the development of tailor-made products say, by genetic modification or using nanotechnology, is seen as being key to the success of organisations involved in research and development in these fields, especially if they depend on large-scale use of natural resources.  

Speaking in Brussels at the Commission’s annual Green Week conference, Dr Antonio Di Guilio, of the European Commission Directorate-General for Research and Innovation, outlined the EU executive’s plans for a forthcoming communication on a ‘European Strategy and Action plan towards a sustainable bio-based economy by 2020’ expected for release in November.

The future strategy should dovetail with the EU’s Europe 2020 Strategy, issued last year, and flagship initiatives on the EU Innovation Union and Resource Efficiency.

It also should bring about “stronger coherence between the various policies and funding instruments at EU and member state level, and a better alignment of the research agendas for innovation in the bio-economy”, according to an introductory paper published as part of the Commission’s online consultation on the future strategy which closed earlier this month.

Of the 197 stakeholders who responded to it, 49 per cent said they were “optimistic” about the future prospects of the bio-based economy and 42 per cent said to be “confident,” according to Di Guilio, who heads a Commission unit that works on cross-cutting issues in biotechnologies, agriculture and food.  

A mere tenth of respondents—of which 42 per cent were private companies, 15 percent non-governmental organisations and a third academics and private individuals, respectively—were “sceptical” of the merits of the bio-based economy which the Commission paper defines as covering “health and industrial sectors that either use biomass or have applications for biotechnology” and supplying 20 million European jobs.

At the same time, Di Guilio conceded, four respondents in five perceived there to be “substantial” barriers to the expansion of the bio-based economy on the EU and national levels and almost one in two felt that its development was fraught with “high risk”.

This included possible negative impacts on food security in developing countries and overexploitation of natural resources, and “decreasing” biodiversity, according to Di Guilio.

Developing a European science base

In its communication the Commission would focus on what the EU should do to promote the development of a “European science base” to underpin the creation of highly-skilled jobs, boosting competitiveness by focusing on “carbon efficiency” and fostering demand for bio-based products.

Moreover, promoting “responsible” governance that enabled a high degree of involvement by stakeholders would be a priority, as would international cooperation.

“We want to work with international players on cutting-edge research”, Di Guilio went on, so that the resulting technological innovations “can be used there where the economic conditions are the best”, he said, mentioning India as being a possible partner for intensfied cooperation.

The Commission previously has stated that the bioeconomy should contribute to food security, “healthy living”, energy efficiency and a reduction or avoidance of climate change-inducing emissions.

Including all ‘ecosystems’

Although the bioeconomy was still “in its infancy in terms of its definition”, the EU needed a new breed of “dynamic entrepreneurs” able to adapt to new and multifaceted challenges, according to Di Guilio. There was a “need for a change of attitudes, including in policy making”, he said.

This would include embracing the “full range of ecosystems. Not only in agriculture, but also fisheries, forests” and perhaps further non-food-based sectors, said Di Guilio, so as to “contribute to the sustainable management of resources.

“We see this aspect of innovation as being very central”, he said, echoing comments by Janez Potoc᷉nik, the European Environment Commissioner.

In a speech to close the four-day ‘Using less, living better’ Green Week event devoted to resource efficiency, Potoc᷉nik remarked on forests that, while bioenergy from forest-sourced biomass had a role to play as part of a move away from fossil-fuel based products, “trees are a slow-growing resource” which need to be governed by long-term plans;

“Compare this with modern demands from the bio economy, and you see we have to tread very carefully”.

The European Commission is due to issue a communication in November detailing its plans for a European strategy on the bio-based economy and outlining actions to undertake.

According to Commission officials the communication should be axed on:

-          Encouraging the development of (an expanded) European science base;

-          Building competition in the bio-based industry;

-          Lowering greenhouse gas emissions and achieving sustainability in the primary production of products;

-          “Responsible” governance of the bio-based economy (“Not a top-down approach”);

-          Research should be followed by education and training;

-          Fostering demand for bio-based products;

-          Providing an “enabling” policy environment;

-          International cooperation; and

-          Communications to highlight scientific advances and educate citizens and stakeholders.

Source: European Commission. Photography courtesy of the Commission/Green Week.

 

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