A European strategy for bio-economy should take the structural differences of different member states into account while also promoting and reinforcing a common vision for the sector, write Carina Håkansson and Mårten Larsson.
Carina Håkansson and Mårten Larsson are Director General and deputy Director General, respectively, of the Swedish Forest Industries Federation.
Climate change is the biggest challenge of our time. To mitigate the wide ranging negative effects of rising temperatures we need to change our ways of living, mainly shifting from a fossil dependent to a fossil free society.
In practice, it’s about making climate friendly choices regarding housing, packaging, traveling, clothing and much more. A responsible management of our precious planet’s resources, by replacing non-renewable commodities with renewables, is crucial.
Trees are just that: green and renewable, providing an essential contribution to the circular bio-economy. In a circular economy the value of products, materials and resources is maintained for as long as possible, and the generation of waste minimised.
The circular bio-economy is about the application of this concept to biological resources, products and materials.
The ongoing review of the EU Bio-economy strategy is vital for further sustainable growth. Mainstreaming its role across all relevant policy areas will contribute to meet a number of critical environmental, economic and societal challenges.
The upcoming EU 9th framework programme for research and innovation should be instrumental to support bio-economy and foster leading edge research in this area.
In countries such as Sweden and Finland, the forest-based sector represent more than half of the bio-economy. In other countries, the agricultural sector dominates. A European strategy should take these structural differences into account while at the same time promoting and reinforcing a common vision.
Our newly released “bioeconomist’s guide to a sustainable life” shows practical examples of forest-based products helping us live, eat, dress, keep healthy and travel in a long-term sustainable way. In public policy as well as in individual everyday purchasing decisions, we show that there are always more sustainable options available. The “green”, renewable alternatives should be the most appealing.
A large part of the policy debate in Brussels echoes the view that wood is primarily used as a source of energy. We demonstrate that using the entire trees -beyond energy- would allow to maximize the creation of value and contribute to other societal challenges.
Technological progress goes fast. Much of what we make from oil-derivates and other non-renewable resources today, we can make of trees.
Today the forest-based industry provide climate-friendly materials and products for constructions, packaging, textiles, chemical industry, and many more sectors. In addition, by-products are used as a raw material source for heat, fuel and electricity production.
There are opportunities to increasingly use forest industry by-products to produce high-quality carbon-based products as fish-food, pharmaceuticals, probiotics and filter paper made of nano-cellulose that can remove even the most minute viruses from water. Most recently, nanocellulose is being used to create human-like tissue for medical research.
A bold bio-economy strategy can strengthen EUs position as global leader in climate policy and sustainable development. To accelerate the innovation and market uptake of bio-based products and to position Europe as a world-leading, competitive bio-based economy there are some basic building blocks to put in place. In our view these are the following.
- Reinforced innovation power. Research and innovation are crucial for driving the development of goods and services in the bio-economy. Industry-wide innovation and more collaborative environments need to be established and further developed. There is a need for multidisciplinary initiatives for the development and efficiency of value chains. To accelerate the shift to a bio-economy, it is important to increase funds and collaborations across the value chain, from research through test and demo installations to implementation and commercialization. New technologies and processes in the forest industry often involve capital-intensive investments with a long-term repayment period. Better conditions for financing and government risk capital are also needed. The Bio-based Industries Joint Undertaking is an important EU Private Public Partnership that needs continued support.
- Wood availability. Even if the forest fibre and solid wood will be used more efficiently, additional wood supply will be needed to increase the growth of the bio-economy. Increasing the availability and mobilisation of biomass requires the promotion of active forest management, the redress of policies that distort biomass supply chains and the adjustment of waste legislation to promote the recycling and recovery of waste. Forest is a valuable raw material that must be used efficiently. This is best done by the market. Proposals for so-called regulated cascade-use must therefore be rejected.
- Stop subsidizing fossils and make renewables the best choice. Public policies incentives play an important role in the development of the bio-economy and will facilitate the transformation. The primary concern is that administrative and economic instruments should promote the development of sustainable transport, resource efficiency, reduced greenhouse gas emissions, and that they are technologically neutral and market-oriented. Green public procurement that promotes innovation and renewable materials is important for stimulating advanced technology and new technical solutions.
- Encourage wood construction. Industrial wood construction has a great potential to contribute to the rapid growth of the bio-economy in the short term. Compared with the development of new materials and advanced fuels, this will quickly, and at comparatively low cost, help reduce the national greenhouse gas emissions. Industrial wood construction has a positive impact on the environment and short construction time; moreover, it is a cost-effective way to meet the demand for housing in the EU. Today there is very limited focus on climate impact in the construction and materials process. New incentives need to be established for the energy consumption and climate impact of the construction process. There is also a need for development of building-standards and systems for timber construction. This gives the architects and builders safety in their choice of wood as a construction material. It is also important that standardization and validation testing are conducted in the EU and internationally.
In conclusion: a change to a bio-economy society is not a transition – it’s a transformation and it is high-tech. The forthcoming EU framework program for research will be crucial to foster such change across Europe throughout the next decade.