All posts filed under: contribution on sustainable bioeconomy

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We need a fundamentally different economy!

  by Jenny Walther-Thoß, WWF As the world population grows, arithmetically, the available land area per person is becoming smaller and smaller, while at the same time the demand for fossil raw materials such as mineral oil continues to rise. The substitution of fossil raw materials by renewable resources for a transition towards a bioeconomy, can only succeed if, all in all, we produce and consume less. Foto: © Eva-Maria Lopez In this debate, to many stakeholders the bioeconomy is the silver lining to keep our growth-oriented economic system running with minimal adjustments. The rationale is: A pinch of efficiency combined with slightly more recycling, enables us to substitute fossil carbon, which industry is currently largely dependent on, by renewable resources without a need to fundamentally change consumption patterns and lifestyles. The “cornification of the landscape” has become a symbol of misguided biofuel subsidies, and has moved the debate in the energy sector forward. Whereas representatives of the chemical industry are becoming quite euphoric about new business sectors in the field of bioplastics. The following …

Will the bioeconomy fail due to a lack of water?

  by Nik Geiler, BBU The bioeconomy threatens global freshwater resources. As biomass imports play an important role in the expansion of the bioeconomy, water conflicts are inevitable, particularly in the Global South. Foto: © Eva-Maria Lopez Plant growth requires land and large quantities of water. An ample water supply is therefore essential for a successful bioeconomy. When rainfall is insufficient, irrigation becomes obligatory to produce the biomass needed for the bioeconomy (corn, palm oil, sugar cane, algae and many other crops). The water demand for the German bioeconomy can be expressed as a water backpack or water footprint. The more fossil fuels and raw materials (coal, oil, natural gas) are replaced by biomass, the more our water footprint increases. This footprint is left mainly abroad. Germany’s large appetite for biomass to feed the bioeconomy, cannot be sufficiently satisfied by plant production on German territory (c.f. land competition). The biomass needed for the production of agrofuels and other plant-based products (e.g. bio-surfactants) is mainly imported from overseas producer countries. Problems occur especially in regions that …

Clean biomass energy to combat climate change?

  by Thomas Fatheuer, FDCL Globally, the share of renewable energy from biomass is 50%, in Germany even 60.2%. In the frame of bioeconomy, the targeted increase in biomass energy production competes with food production and increases the pressure on ecosystems and their inhabitants. Foto: © Eva-Maria Lopez Bioeconomy is supposed to provide an answer to three fundamental challenges for humanity: climate change, food security, resource scarcity. To effectively combat climate change, it is necessary to phase out the fossil fuels coal, oil and natural gas. No doubt, this represents a gigantic task. The German energy transition focuses on the expansion of wind and solar energy. The importance of energy generated by biomass is often neglected. Yet 60.2% of “renewable” energy in Germany derives from biomass, whereas wind power accounts for only 22%. This large proportion is due to the dominant importance of biomass in satisfying heating needs. For heating, the share of renewable energy is 83%. The global situation is similar. The International Energy Agency (IEA) states: “Modern bioenergy is the ignored giant in …

Political bioeconomy debates

  by Jenny Walther-Thoß, WWF As many as 50 countries have developed strategies to promote economic development of a bioeconomy. However, a broad debate on the kind of bioeconomy that points the way to the future has not yet taken place in society. Foto: © Eva-Maria Lopez Currently, two economic models coexist: the dominant fossil economy and the emerging biobased economy. The rise of a new bio-based economy highlights the need for a paradigm shift towards sustainability to meet society’s long-term goals and emerging challenges. These include decoupling economic growth from negative environmental impacts, managing natural resources sustainably, improving food security and reducing poverty. Fifty countries worldwide have developed strategies to promote the development of the bioeconomy. Fifteen of these countries (including the EU member states) have implemented very detailed policy strategies including implementation concepts (1). Basically, most bioeconomy strategies and stakeholders involved describe the bioeconomy as follows: “The bioeconomy strategy aims to reduce dependence on fossil resources, transform production, promote sustainable production of renewable resources from land, fisheries and aquaculture and their conversion into …

Bioeconomy at the cost of land grabbing and displacement

  by Jutta Kill, WRM A growing bioeconomy with an increasing total biomass consumption means land grabbing and displacement of smallholder families in the global South. Not even sustainability certifications are able to solve these problems. Foto: © Eva-Maria Lopez Plant biomass is the cornerstone of the bioeconomy. One result is: In a growing bioeconomy the consumption of biomass increases, and consequently the land area to produce biomass is expanding. Land, however, is sought-after and expensive in EU countries. Due to climate conditions plants grow faster in the global South. Another component of this European perspective of the current bioeconomy debate is the repeatedly stated position, that large areas of “degraded” land would be available in the global South, and would even benefit from being used for the production of biomass. The reality is different: Corporations prefer fertile arable land to non-degraded land for their industrial plantations. Plantation operators already make use of large areas of land in countries such as Brazil, Mozambique, Indonesia or Malaysia for industrial plantations producing pulp, energy or palm oil. …

Green plastic for Coke and Lego from Brazil – I’m green™

  by Thomas Fatheuer, FDCL The Brazilian chemical company Braskem is the world market leader in bioplastics. Its customers include Coca Cola and Lego. The basis for the bioplastics production is sugar cane. Yet, the company, involved in a corruption scandal, provides dubious information regarding the origin of the sugar cane. Foto: © Eva-Maria Lopez “I’m green” is not a trending exclamation of green politicians, but the registered trademark of the Brazilian chemical giant Braskem – hence legally it must be spelt: I’m green™. Braskem is one of the largest manufacturers of polyethylenes, i.e. plastics. Its German site in Schkopau is still famous from GDR times for the slogan “Plaste und Elaste aus Schkopau” (“Plastics and elastomers from Schkopau”). But most of its production sites are in Brazil, the group’s home country. Combined 90% of voting shares belong to the construction group Odebrecht and the semi-state oil company Petrobras, the state development bank BNDES also has a stake. The group has become the global leader in the production of so-called bioplastics and dominates the market …

Genetic engineering in the bioeconomy

  by Christof Potthof, GeN The list of false promises of genetic engineering advances is substantial. The bioeconomy opens up new opportunities for genetic engineering. By no means, the bioeconomy should act as a green disguise for new agro-genetic engineering applications. Foto: © Eva-Maria Lopez Through the shift from mineral oil and other fossil raw materials towards the increased use of biological resources as the raw material base, the bioeconomy opens up new opportunities for genetic engineering in at least two sectors. As early as 2012, the German government defined the biorefineries roadmap aiming at improved crops: “The breeding of optimised regrowing raw material crops for increased biomass yields, and the improvement of ingredients, requires all methods of modern plant breeding and plant production, including plant biotechnology. […] Both, the attainable increase in quantity and the controlled production of required raw materials in their specific composition are significant.” (1). Even though CRISPR technology was not the focus of the debate at the time – this genetic engineering tool had just been invented – it can …

Research funding is political

  by Steffi Ober, NABU Growth and securing prosperity are the dominant priorities for research policy in the field of bioeconomy. However, a problem-oriented research strategy with an openness towards technologies, is essential to enable institutional, cultural and social innovations. Foto: © Eva-Maria Lopez Major challenges require courageous political action and a future-oriented science and research agenda: a roadmap off the beaten track, that advances social transformation with new, transdisciplinary alliances. Yet, sustainable development is complex, many decisions regarding a desirable future depend on social norms, on our values. Though, our ideas of prosperity and the good life depend as much on the current Zeitgeist and discourse as the the oft-cited common good. While some regard a return to the consumption level of the 1970s equal to a relapse to the Dark Ages, expecting a nightmare of renunciation, for others, establishing sufficiency is a necessary corrective of Western lifestyles safeguarding a sustainable future. In research policy, however, clearly set principles are considered unquestionable: Growth and securing prosperity belong together just as much as ensuring the …

Forests are not an inexhaustible source of biomass!

  by László Maráz, FUE Firewood, paper and timber construction are already entirely using up the wood grown in Germany. The forests potential to provide renewable resources for a bioeconomy is therefore very limited if this ecosystem is not to come under further pressure. Foto: © Eva-Maria Lopez Forests are increasingly coming into the focus of actors who want to promote the bioeconomy. Their wood is considered one of the most important material sources to substitute fossil raw materials. An expansion of the wood production however, is limited by ecological, social and economic boundaries of the forests. Especially since forests are currently suffering from the effects of global warming already. Paradoxically, after two years of drought in 2018 and 2019, wood is once again designated as one of the most important renewable resources for the achievement of climate goals. The German Federal Ministry of Agriculture is in fact considering making the forest fit for the bioeconomy. To substitute fossil and mineral raw materials for wood, the production of this important renewable resource, shall continue through …

No acceptance without democratic participation

  by Josephine Koch, FUE A broad bioeconomy debate has not taken place in society yet. In order to develop an ecologically and socially coherent bioeconomy strategy, a dialogue should be established with environmental and development organisations, social associations, trade unions and social movements. Foto: © Eva-Maria Lopez The bioeconomy debate has an impact on fundamental policy areas – such as economy and energy, agricultural, food, forestry and fisheries, climate and environmental, as well as research and development policy. While the bioeconomy lays many claims with thorough impacts on society, the concept is neither adequately taken up in public-parliamentary and media debates, nor discussions about the social aspects of bioeconomy initiated on a wider level. Thus, the term is almost unknown among the population or is at most mistakenly confused with organic agriculture. Even in the NGO scene, the concept is considered nebulous and fragmentary. The reason: the discourse is mainly conducted in exclusive circles of experts between government, business and industry-related research, where bioeconomy is treated as a technocratic, all-purpose approach without alternatives. The …