The European Commission defines the bioeconomy as "the production of renewable biological resources and the conversion of these resources and waste streams into value added products, such as food, feed, bio-based products and bioenergy. Its sectors and industries have strong innovation potential due to their use of a wide range of sciences, enabling and industrial technologies, along with local and tacit knowledge." Source: "Innovating for Sustainable Growth - A Bioeconomy for Europe" (2012)
The transition to a sustainable bio-based economy
The forecasted change in climatic conditions and increasing depletion of fossil fuel sources require the economy to be based preferably on renewable resources. Securing global nutrition also demands an increase in productivity with due regard to protecting resources and the environment. Cutting-edge biological and technological knowledge and methods for both intensive and yet sustainable production, provision and processing of biomass may bring about this change in the industrial resource base and contribute to reducing the burden on the environment and to conserving the earth’s finite resources. Thus the bioeconomy offers a future opportunity to reconcile economic growth with environmentally responsible action.
The transition to a sustainable bio-based economy means that the historically developed structures and ways of life that appear normal today need to be completely rethought. Therefore, it is crucial to align research on a broad basis to the solution of the emerging societal challenges and to increasingly integrate social and economic sciences, as well as cultural and humanities disciplines. This is a prerequisite to tackle the problems facing us as societal challenges and to realise technical innovations as part of social structures and human life.
The societal transformation towards a bioeconomy raises questions about the ethical foundations as well as the political and institutional framework conditions, in short, the normative resources of such a comprehensive change. How can a change be justified and legitimised in its political implementation that has been established in the interest of future generations, driven by economic needs and at the same time based on fundamental ethical considerations? The normative criterion of acceptability has a much higher impact than the possibly volatile acceptance of specific measures or technologies that can be determined by opinion polls on a case-by-case basis.
Overall, it comes to the question if and how ethical premises, human benefit considerations and the sustainable protection of a modern, industrially driven economy can be reconciled in a bioeconomy in a broadly acceptable way.