An interview. European Commission: “The bioeconomy can generate significant carbon savings to reduce EU’s GHG emissions by at least 55% by 2030”

Berlaymont in Brussels
Berlaymont, European Commission’s Headquarter in Brussels

“Already now, the circular and sustainable bioeconomy is contributing to all dimensions and objectives of the European Green Deal. Through the substitution of fossil-based products and materials and through carbon sequestration in soil and forests, together with its storage in harvested wood products, the bioeconomy can generate significant carbon savings to reduce the EU’s greenhouse gas emissions by at least 55% by 2030”. To say this is a European Commission’s official, who prefers to remain anonymous. In this long interview with Il Bioeconomista, the Commission’s official talk about the Green New Deal, the bioeconomy and the partnership Circular Bio-based Europe.

Interview by Mario Bonaccorso

The Bioeconomy is an important economic concept, relevant for the European Green Deal. How could the bioeconomy support the green transition? And what are the next steps in Brussels to make the circular and sustainable bioeconomy happen?

Already now, the circular and sustainable bioeconomy is contributing to all dimensions and objectives of the European Green Deal. Through the substitution of fossil-based products and materials and through carbon sequestration in soil and forests, together with its storage in harvested wood products, the bioeconomy can generate significant carbon savings to reduce the EU’s greenhouse gas emissions by at least 55% by 2030. At the same time, Europe has to make sure that the measures under the European Green Deal will be socially fair; no place and no person should be left behind. Again, the bioeconomy with its potential to create green jobs and growth in rural and coastal areas will mitigate this risk.

The European Commission’s latest Green Deal proposals strengthen the importance of the bioeconomy. The new Forest Strategy acknowledges and aims to boost the entire sustainable forest bioeconomy that works in synergy with the EU’s increased climate and biodiversity ambition. The Renewable Energy Directive will further implement stricter sustainability criteria for the woody biomass and dedicated actions for the production and the use of long-lived wood products. The proposal for the new Land use, forestry and agriculture regulation will be very important in seeking balance between increasing carbon stocks in forest land vs. using wood for substituting other materials or energy sources. New business models based on carbon farming incentives and on the certification of carbon removals will provide direct incentive to individual farmers or forest managers to store more carbon on their land and their forests, thus creating opportunities for new jobs, training, reskilling and upskilling.

Regarding the next steps, the European Commission plans to develop a Bioeconomy Progress Report. In this report, the Commission will assess the implementation of the 14 actions under the EU’s 2018 Bioeconomy Strategy and explain how the bioeconomy contributes to the objectives under the European Green Deal. This report will be published in 2022. A roadmap, on which stakeholders can express their views and provide feedback on the European Commission’s outlined plans regarding this upcoming Bioeconomy Progress Report, was recently published.

Despite their huge biomass potential, Central and Eastern European countries lag behind. What is the Commission doing to support the CEE to further develop and advance their national bioeconomy strategies and policies?

The European Commission is fully aware of the biomass and human capacity significant potential of Central and Eastern European countries. This is why it fully supports their coordinated efforts under the BIOEAST initiative. Since the bioeconomy is a holistic and cross-cutting policy, the development of a dedicated national bioeconomy strategy is an important step for a country to harness the opportunities that the bioeconomy provides. During the past year, the Commission has worked together with experts in a Mutual Learning Experience (MLE) and has identified 10 Key Policy Messages to help guide national bioeconomy strategy and/or action plan development. The Report and a Factsheet are available online.

The European Commission is further continuing the bioeconomy policy discussion with all EU Member States under the European Bioeconomy Policy Forum and is supporting the BIOEAST initiative via the Horizon 2020 support action BIOEASTsUP. Under the new research and innovation framework programme, Horizon Europe, the European Commission will continue to support Member States that do not have a bioeconomy strategy and/or an action plan in developing one. The indicative budget for this topic is 4 million euros in total.

The EU Commission launched the Circular Bio-based Europe. How will this partnership contribute to the 2030 climate targets, paving the way for climate neutrality by 2050, in line with the European Green Deal?

Circular Bio-based Europe will build on the success of its predecessor, Bio-based Industries Joint Undertaking (BBI JU), while stepping up its contribution to the EU’s climate targets, in line with the European Green Deal.

The partnership will only fund projects and support activities that are respecting principles of circularity, sustainability and planetary boundaries.  It will develop and expand the sustainable sourcing and conversion of biomass, and support circular approaches such as the use of biological waste, side streams and residues from agriculture, forestry, fisheries and aquaculture, industry and municipal sectors to produce new bio-based materials and products, replacing their fossil-based equivalents. Part of the research efforts will focus on innovations increasing the sustainability of the bio-based industry’s production processes, including the climate-neutrality and the potential of replacing polluting processes and substances with improved bio-based solutions.  Establishing a robust sustainability and biodiversity monitoring system for the funded projects will be one of CBE JU’s main objectives.

There is still low public awareness about the concept of the bioeconomy and a number of challenges in developing the necessary and adequate skills and educational requirements. How can these gaps be better addressed?

In the 2017 Review of the first European Bioeconomy Strategy, we came to conclusions that despite our efforts, the scope and level of ambition of the strategy and of the actions implemented have remained limited, especially in regards to education and skills in bioeconomy. That is why in the European Commission’s updated Bioeconomy Strategy from 2018, a special emphasis has been put on promoting education, training and skills across the bioeconomy. A study on bioeconomy education, training and skills has been launched in June 2021. The findings of this study will be published in Summer 2022. The importance of this topic has been further stressed during this year’s European Research & Innovation Days’ session on bioeconomy education and youth engagement (24 June 2021). During this session, Mariya Gabriel, Commissioner for Innovation, Research, Culture, Education and Youth, highlighted the importance of further education and youth engagement initiatives in the bioeconomy.  

The European Commission supported successful awareness raising projects under Horizon 2020, such as BIOVOICES and Transition2Bio. Moreover, there will be a Horizon Europe project on bioeconomy education that will focus on young people in primary and secondary education.  It is important to realise that the younger generation needs to be prepared for their role in the transition to a circular and sustainable bioeconomy. 

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