Ex-prime ministers fight for bioeconomy

European leaders must exercise political leadership and decouple economic growth from environmental degradation. This is where the bioeconomy comes in. The bioeconomy can also tackle other major challenges facing society. So write two former prime ministers, Göran Persson (Sweden) and Esko Aho (Finland).

In a statement from the European Forest Institute (EFI), Göran Persson and Esko Aho emphasise that we are living in a time of accelerated change and unprecedented global challenges. However, the 21st century also offers fantastic opportunities. The bioeconomy is one of them. Unfortunately, the bioeconomy's development is threatened by a major obstacle. This obstacle is the privileged position enjoyed by the fossil-based economy.

The fossil economy generates major environmental costs that are not absorbed by the markets in any way. Furthermore, in many cases, the fossil economy benefits from different types of subsidies.

Facing this operating framework, the development of the bioeconomy cannot be left to the markets and technology alone. Decoupling growth from environmental degradation requires a major shift towards a low-carbon, renewable and resource-efficient society that has a sustainable economy. Such a shift requires political leadership, vision and strategic action. As outlined below, Göran Persson and Esko Aho set out three strategic policy developments required to develop Europe's bioeconomy:

A global carbon price:

This would create a global incentive for fossil-based industries to move towards low-carbon alternatives. Carbon pricing mechanisms (e.g. fees, taxes, or cap and trade systems) offer incredibl benefits for the development of the bioeconomy.

A long-term, predictable and coherent bioeconomy policy framework:

To counteract current regulatory and market failures to ensure a level playing field for different uses of biomass, any policy should be rooted in the principles of sustainability, resource efficiency and diversity. Such a framework is necessary to move the bioeconomy from "niche to norm".

Closer communication with society:

Bioeconomy has to be sustainable, not only in rhetoric, but also in action. The first generation of biofuels emerged a decade ago. Their arrival was accompanied by negative environmental issues. These have provided a lesson in how not to start bioeconomic development.

New development will create new bioproducts that, by outperforming and replacing fossil-based products, will enhance the move to a low-carbon economy. Rapid advances in bioscience, biotechnology and biorefineries mean that virtually everything that is now made from oil can also be made from renewable biological resources. The bioeconomy will also support new jobs in rural and urban areas, states Göran Persson and Esko Aho.