Toward Post-Petroleum Europe?

The European Commission says that Europe needs to move to a “bio-economy” and has presented a strategy to transform the EU’s approach to the exploitation, use and disposal of biological resources. There is a need, says the Commission, for a “post-petroleum” economy – for Europe to move “from a fossil-based to a bio-based society”.
 The Commission defines “bio-economy” as “an economy using biological resources from the land and sea, as well as waste, as inputs to food and feed, industrial and energy production.” In fact, some Member States, including Denmark, Finland, Germany, Ireland and the Netherlands, already have bioeconomy strategies. The Commission's move indicates that the concept will be gaining broader awareness and acceptance in coming years. According to the Commission, The EU bioeconomy already has a turnover of nearly €2 trillion and employs more than 22 million people, 9% of total employment in the EU. It includes agriculture, forestry, fisheries, food and pulp and paper production, as well as parts of chemical, biotechnological and energy industries. The Commission claims that each euro invested in EU-funded bioeconomy research and innovation is estimated to trigger €10 of value added in bioeconomy sectors by 2025.

Background

The “bio-economy” refers to all sectors of the economy relating to the creation, development, production and use of biological products and processes. These include agriculture, forestry, fisheries, food and pulp and paper production, as well as parts of chemical, bio-technological and energy industries. The Bio-economy Action Plan (Strategy), presented by the Commission on 23 February, is intended address future long-term societal and economic problems such as food security and reducing dependence on non-renewable resources, through encouraging the sustainable management of natural resources as well as creating jobs. The Commission estimates that targeted investment in bio-economy sectors could add 45 billion euros to bio-economy sectors by 2025 and create as many as 130,000 research jobs. The strategy would also support the wider strategic aims for economic growth, resource efficiency and research investment already outlined in the EU 2020 Strategy, “Resource Efficient Europe” initiative and “Horizon 2020” Framework Programme for Research and Innovation.

Objectives of the Strategy

The “bio-economy” would be developed by achieving objectives in 3 areas for action:

Investment in research and innovation and labour skills - developing new technologies and processes for the bio-economy. 

The Strategy aims to promote research and innovation activities to increase EU leadership and investment in the bio-economy, increase the share of the skilled bio-economy labour force and promote entrepreneurship.

Improving the coherence and coordination between policies at EU and national level and greater involvement of stakeholders - pushing policymakers and stakeholders to work more closely together.

The Strategy aims to improve dialogue and better interaction and co-ordination across various policies at the EU and Member State level to provide a more coherent policy framework and encourage investment.

Development of markets for bio-based products and enhanced competitiveness of bio-economy sectors - developing markets and competitiveness in bio-economy sectors.

The Strategy aims to enhance market development and better resource efficiency in the bio-economy sectors (agriculture and forestry; fisheries and aquaculture; bio-based industries; and the food chain) to create additional growth and jobs.

The Strategy

Within each of the 3 areas for action the Commission identifies 4 broad “priority actions”. The Commission Staff Working Document accompanying the strategy lists the short and medium-term initiatives, as well as initiatives that would continue into the long-term, to support the implementation of the 12 priority actions identified.

1) Investment in research, innovation and skills

Priority Action 1: Ensure EU and national funding as well as private investment and partnering for bio-economy research and innovation.

Short-term initiatives:
• Outline the main research and innovation priorities for sustainable agriculture and forestry and for marine and maritime activities under Horizon 2020
 
Continuous initiatives:
• Increase EU public funding for research and innovation related to the bio-economy particularly on: food security, sustainable agriculture, forestry, fisheries and aquaculture, and bio-based industries (e.g. FP7 and Horizon 2020). 
• Improve scientific knowledge of bio-sciences and related emerging technologies and biological research infrastructures, through research programmes e.g FP7 and Horizon 2020.
• Co-operate with the European Institute of Innovation and Technology (EIT) and relevant “Knowledge and Innovation Communities”(KICs) in the area of the bio-economy.
• Strengthen coherence of EU and national/regional programmes that support research and innovation relevant to the bio-economy, through “European Innovation Partnerships” (EIPs) and specific public-public partnering initiatives (e.g. ERA-Nets, Joint Programming Initiatives).
• Co-ordinate Horizon 2020 and other related EU programmes in areas such as education, technology and knowledge transfer and acquisition, competitiveness and SMEs, development aid as well as structural funds e.g Cohesion policy Funds.

Priority Action 2: Create a better environment for the bio-economy by better policies.

Short-term initiatives
• Improve interaction between bio-economy research and policy making and ensure EU funding of research in support to bio-economy-related policies.
 
Continuous initiatives
• Continue European Technology Platforms relevant to the bio-economy.
• Support exchange of knowledge, advisory and support services, cooperation and training opportunities among all actors of the supply chain and end-users of bio-economy research and innovation.
• Develop EU SME support infrastructure advising producers, businesses and stakeholders, for example on strategic use of instruments (e.g. standards, labels, certificates).
• Boost the development of technologies related to bio-based industries and to the bio-economy at large - including biotechnologies, nanotechnologies, ICT, advanced materials, manufacturing and processing - through FP7 and then Horizon 2020 “Industrial Leadership and Competitive Frameworks. 

Priority Action 3: Create ways of providing feedback on regulations and policy measures and expand support to research networks.

Medium Term Initiatives
• Harmonise rules for patent development and patent law related to the bio-economy
 
Continuous initiatives
• Promote the uptake innovation in different bio-economy sectors.
• Support role of SMEs, primary producers and end customer servicing industries in the novel bio-economy supply chains, in EU research and innovation programmes and organise (on an ad-hoc basis) meetings of leading scientists to discuss scientific evidence for policy making.

Priority Action 4: Train and educate workers to support the growth of the bio-economy sectors and develop new bio-economy curricula and vocational training schemes

Short-term initiatives
• Promote training, mobility, career development and exchange opportunities and enhance the development of an open European market for researchers in the bio-economy across borders and public and private sectors through Marie Curie Actions (FP7 and Horizon 2020) and the European Research Area (ERA)
• Set up a Life Science, Marine and Agricultural Universities Forum, to develop the bio-economy through networking in education, training and research.
 
Continuous initiatives
• Development skills in higher education for the bio-economy by creating more academic posts in relevant scientific and technological disciplines, adjusting higher education curricula, and providing realistic prospects, career opportunities and financial funding.

2) Reinforced policy interaction and stakeholder engagement

Priority Action 1: Set up a Bio-Economy Panel to give advice, monitor and evaluate the progress made in developing an EU bio-economy on EU, national and regional levels, and increase public involvement through regular Bio-economy Stakeholder Conferences

Short-term initiatives
• Promote involvement of society in the discussion of research priorities, activities and uptake of research results; and promote best use of science for the development of national strategies and guidelines.
 
Medium Term Initiatives 
• Create an EU-wide information exchange system to strengthen coherence of policies and co-operation in activities, through a Bio-economy Panel involving relevant European Commission services, Member States and stakeholders.
 
Continuous initiatives
• Promote informed public debate on bio-economy issues and hold regular Bio-economy Stakeholders Conferences on a yearly basis at EU level from 2012-2017, as well as encouraging national conferences. 
• Improve availability and quality of information on bio-economy products and processes, and their impacts.  Involve local authorities and stakeholders in the building of the bio-economy and in reaching out to the general public and promote "zero-waste" campaigns.

Priority Action 2: Create a Bio-Economy Observatory to allow the Commission to assess the progress and impact of the bio-economy on a regular basis and improve existing measures.

Short-Medium Term Initiatives
• Map EU, national and regional bio-economy policies, research and innovation capacities, activities and infrastructures, as well as public and private investments in research and innovation.
Continuous initiatives
• Set up a “Bio-economy Observatory” to follow the evolution of bio-economy markets and the impacts (socio-economic, scientific technological, market and legislation) of policies. Link the system to a global monitoring system to follow the world-wide developments and impacts.
• Produce regular forecasts for the bio-economy.

Priority Action 3: Develop regional and national bio-economy strategies at the local, regional and national level

Medium Term Initiatives
• Aid national and regional bio-economy strategies by supporting discussions with authorities responsible for rural and coastal development and Cohesion Policy
Continuous initiatives
• Enhance short chain, local economic activities and urban-rural and coastal interlinkages to cater for the increasing demands for regional and diversified food and non-food products (e.g. through support in regional development programmes).
Priority Action 4: International cooperation on bio-economy research and innovation is needed between the EU, Member States, trade partners and international organisations.
 
Continuous initiatives 
• Hold international policy discussions and on co-operate on science and technology in the area of bio-economy in the Horizon 2020 research and innovation programme to address challenges such as food security, sustainable agriculture and fisheries and continue work with established fora.
• Promote international cooperation and synergies among research programmes related to the bio-economy in the EU, Member States and strategic 3rd countries, and expand fora such as the Strategic Forum for International Cooperation (SFIC)

3) Enhancement of markets and competitiveness in bio-economy

Priority Action 1: Improve scientific knowledge-base across sectors and make findings available to the public.

Short-term initiatives 
• Improve scientific evidence for policies under the Common Agricultural and Fisheries Policies (CAP and CFP), the Integrated Maritime Policy and many environmental (including biodiversity, resource efficiency and waste), industrial, employment, energy and health policies.
 
Medium Term Initiatives
• Improve data on the availability of biomass and bio-waste and their use in bio-based industries, bio-energy and food sectors and the need for imports from 3rd countries. 
• Improve the quality of biomass and waste to provide producers of bio-based products, bio-fuels and bio-energy with equal accessibility.
• Develop methodology for the calculation of environmental footprints, e.g. using Life Cycle Analysis (LCA)
• Improve scientific knowledge on carbon balance for assessment of sustainable uses of biomass.
 
Continuous initiatives
• Provide data to examine potential trade-offs between various types of land uses in agriculture and increase capacity to analyse complex scenarios (e.g. on trade or food security versus bio-fuels issues)
• Support the development of appropriate diagnostic tools, reference material and coordination mechanisms to tackle quarantine pests 
• Provide extension services and farmers/foresters with (predictive) tools on pests and disease outbreaks as well as with comprehensive information for integrated pest control.

Priority Action 2: Promote networks and start negotiations for the establishment of research and innovation of private-public partnerships for EU bio-based industries by 2013

Short-term initiatives
• Promote public private initiatives for bio-based industries.
 
Medium Term Initiatives
• Support the creation of a network of diversified bio-refineries across Europe.

Priority Action 3: Support the expansion of new markets by developing standards and standardised sustainability assessment methodologies for bio-based products and food production systems and supporting scale-up activities.

Short-term initiatives 
• Launch a study in 2013 to assess different labelling options for bio-based products and develop the knowledge base for certification schemes and labels (e.g. Eco-label) for bio-based products in order to promote their uptake in consumer markets and green public procurement.
• Contribute to the creation of a European product information list for bio-based products to promote uptake in consumer markets and public procurement
 
Medium Term Initiatives
• Develop methodological standards for bio-based products (e.g. using Life cycle analysis) 
• Improve investment in pilot plant infrastructures and activities in order to support the up-scaling of bio-based products and processes.
• Develop new technologies and processing methods aimed at reducing both energy and water consumption in the food processing industry and packaging materials.
• Boost the development of new production systems, products and services deriving from the exploitation of aquatic living resources and the management of their environment.
• Develop technologies to improve aquaculture to ensure it is at the forefront of technological development.
• Explore the possibilities of efficiency criteria in food processing and manufacturing and set up a consultation forum during 2012/2013 to deliberate on implementing measures and possible self-regulatory initiatives.
• Provide scientific evidence for existing policy incentives (and if necessary for new policy initiatives, at both European and national level) to reduce food wastage in food production, storage, transport, distribution and households.
 
Continuous initiatives
• Integrate research projects to develop new products, technologies and production systems ("Spread Best Practice")

Priority Action 4: Providing information on nutrition and dietary choices to promote a healthy and sustainable lifestyle.

Medium Term Initiatives
• Promote research and innovation on factors affecting food choices and their impact on the environment.
• Develop new process technologies to enhance the quality and nutritional value of food.
• Review policy and economic incentives to encourage industry to change their products to reduce sodium, sugar, saturated fat and energy, and to increase the fibre, wholegrain, fruit and vegetable content of processed and pre-prepared foods 
• Communicate scientific evidence about environmental and social services provided by agriculture and by fisheries and aquaculture.
• Promote safe, nutritious and healthy European seafood and transparency on the origin of seafood products "from net/cage to plate".

What Happens Next

The European Parliament and Council are expected to respond officially to the document in the coming months.