The bioeconomy is a crucial factor in fighting climate change, responding to the growing food demand and boosting rural areas. In its opinion on the Updating of the Bioeconomy Strategy, adopted at its plenary session of 15 May, the EESC calls for better support for SMEs in the form of advice and access to finance.

Public-private cooperation should be promoted and supported through the common agriculture policy. Central and eastern Europe could enhance the output of biomass processing by developing territorial and local links.  It is also important for the EU to engage with other countries on global carbon pricing, in order to make the bioeconomy more competitive.  Howsoever the EU moves forward on developing its bioeconomy, sustainability criteria must apply.

The bioeconomy encompasses the production of renewable biological resources and their conversion into food, feed, bio-based products and bioenergy. As such, it is a major contributor to both climate change mitigation and a sustainable and efficient use of resources.

Global challenges such as climate change, population growth and the depletion of natural resources are forcing humanity to rethink its behaviour.

The Commission has recognised this problem and, given the dramatic and rapid extinction of species, as recently indicated in a UN-report, the EESC welcomes the update of the 2012 Bioeconomy Strategy as a major step in the right direction. In the EESC’s view, however, additional measures should be taken to help make the strategy more efficient.

Better support for the bioeconomy, particularly SMEs

“We must not lose any more time, we must act now”, warned rapporteur Mindaugas Maciulevičius. “The challenge ahead is not only the fight against climate change but also to provide nutrition for a planet that will soon be home to 10 billion people. Sustainability and the careful use of our resources must be the bottom-line of all our policies”, said Maciulevičius.

This is supported by Udo Hemmerling, co-rapporteur for the opinion, who stated that “sustainability principles are essential for a ‘new’ bioeconomy and natural resources have to be conserved in order to keep them productive.”

SMEs already play a major role in the bioeconomy, but to increase their contribution, they need better advice and access to finance. The EESC believes that setting up individual and flexible advisory services to help agri-food SMEs launch long-term, innovative projects is essential.

In addition, public-private cooperation could play a major role, since it would enhance efficiency and trigger the exchange of knowledge, expertise and best practices.

In this regard, it is also essential to incorporate research, innovation and bioeconomy activities into a long-term strategy designed to facilitate development and replication.

An economic boost for rural areas

The bioeconomy could help to create and secure jobs and development in rural areas. A special focus must be placed on modern infrastructure and logistics, as they are prerequisites to fostering biomass supply.

Respecting sustainability principles is key for a “new” bioeconomy, and to encourage this, education and support for innovation are of utmost importance.  Furthermore, in order to better promote EU-produced bio-based products, consumers need to be engaged through information campaigns.

Coordination and cooperation can increase the bioeconomy’s share

“Without upgrading residues, side-streams and waste, and promoting the circular economy, we will neither succeed in the fight against climate change nor in achieving the UN Sustainable Development Goals”, stressed Maciulevičius. “Cooperation across sectors – food, non-food systems and rural areas – and across continents is imperative”.

It is also essential to focus better on linking different areas – urban-rural, rural-rural, land-sea – so that they can contribute to sustainable bioeconomy value chains and clusters. Those linkages would particularly help central and eastern Europe. This region is rich in biomass due to extensive activities in the fields of agriculture, forestry and fishery, with high, but under-utilised biomass capacity.

A carbon-price tax for creating a level playing-field on the markets

According to experts’ estimates, the bioeconomy can reduce CO2, the main cause of climate change, by 1.2 to 1.5 billion tonnes a year. However, it is essential for it to be competitive.

“We need to eliminate the competitive advantage of imported goods that are cheaper due to lower climate requirements. The EU should engage with other countries on moving towards global carbon pricing, not least by using the purchasing power of 500 million consumers”, said Maciulevičius.

“It is essential to support those who are working in the bioeconomy and protect both producers and consumers against goods from abroad that do not meet the sustainable criteria we demand from European producers”, concluded Maciulevičius.