Finding the Right Balance within the Bioeconomy

BioMonitor partners have published a series of scientific papers that investigate the different trends and scenarios that have and will take place once the bioeconomy is in sync with the Sustainable Development Goals

Bildschirmfoto 2020-11-09 um 14.50.42
© Jon Flobrant on Unsplash

In Europe, decision makers worked on building an economic recovery plan, and proceeded with their ambition to address climate change and to preserve the planet. It started with the Green Deal which was announced last year. A series of other policies have been launched in the process. To name a few are the Circular Economy Action Plan, the Farm to Fork Strategy, and the EU Biodiversity Strategy for 2030. These are supposed to be in sync with the Global Agenda 2030 and the SDGs. While the bioeconomy’s stake in Europe became more important than ever, it must however find its “balance” to meet all the challenges and not leave anyone or anything behind.

As experts recognise the importance of the bioeconomy in addressing environmental, societal and economic challenges, the development of a clearer strategy is partly impeded by a paucity of comprehensive data for monitoring and the availability of tailor-made simulation modelling tools to give us a glimpse of the possible futures. The BioMonitor project has published a series of scientific papers that analyses Europe’s bioeconomy strategy in the context of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), and provide different policy scenarios in 30 years’ time.

Some of the main activities within the BioMonitor project are to identify the data gaps and indicators when monitoring the bioeconomy, and to build policy scenarios and analysis using its data platform and modelling toolbox. This year its partners have published the following papers which evaluates our current stance with the bioeconomy in relation to the SDGs:

George Philippidis from the Aragonese Foundation for Research & Development (ARAID) focusses on developing better models to examine diverging future pathways of bioeconomy development, while Tévécia Ronzon from the EU Joint Research Centre (EU-JRC) is involved in defining the scope of the bioeconomy, and the short-term methodologies for data collection and indicator reporting.

We’ve asked several questions from our partners about their work and the outcome of their research with regards to the SDGs.

What is the role of modelling in the project?

GP: Simulation modelling provides a method for looking at how changes in market conditions that deviate from what we currently expect about the future development of our society, can impact not only on consumers and producers, but also on social (e.g., employment) and environmental indicators (GHG emissions, biomass usage, water and land usage).

Can you tell us briefly, what the MAGNET model is about (as mentioned in the paper on Snakes and Ladders) and why it is one of the models used in the BioMonitor project?

GP: MAGNET is a model of the entire global economy which captures the interactions between markets, households, governments and investors. It offers unique insights into the development of the bioeconomy because it explicitly recognises that our planet faces finite resource constraints (i.e., land, capital, natural resources including biomass). This means that whilst a policy change may achieve its stated goal, it can also result in trade-offs elsewhere within the system. Models like MAGNET help us to identify these pressure points. Within the BioMonitor project, this “big picture” economy-wide model complements the more sector specific models within the BioMonitor modelling platform.

How in sync is the SDGs with the EU Bioeconomy Strategy?

TR: The SDG framework is broad and it encompasses the bioeconomy as a strategy towards a low fossil-carbon economy. In a paper we published, we have matched the bioeconomy actions described in the EU Bioeconomy action plan with the SDG targets they contribute to. We found that the bioeconomy strategy is aligned with 53 SDG targets distributed in 12 of the 17 SDGs.

Actions are contemplated in domains as varied as the bio-based sectors of activities (SDG 2, 8 and 9), the use and recycling of natural resources (SDG 6, 11 and 12), the biophysical environment (SDG 14 and 15), education (SDG 4), the production of bioenergy (SDG 7), climate action (SDG 13) and partnerships for the implementation of the action plan (SDG 17).

Only five of the SDGs have no relation with the EU Bioeconomy action plan (SDG 5: Gender equality and SDG 16: Peace, justice and strong institutions) or indirectly relate to the bioeconomy (SDG 1: No poverty, SDG 3: Good health and well-being and SDG 10: Reduce inequalities).

Do we think we can find a right balance between ending zero hunger (SDG2), preserving biodiversity and ecosystems (SDG15), water sanitation (SDG6) and so on?

TR: Over the period analysed in our paper (1990-2018), the high number of trade-offs we identified in relation with SDG2 indicates that this right balance was not achieved. However, various options for addressing the tensions related with SDG2 are proposed by stakeholders under the umbrella of sustainable agriculture: agro-ecology, climate smart agriculture, precision farming, biotechnologies, etc. Their testing, (in)-validation and implementation to specific agricultural contexts should enable us to find the right balance. Nowadays, EU policy officers, stakeholders and citizens are more aware of the tensions between the social, economic and environmental aspects of human activities than over the period observed in our paper and I’m convinced they will push for the adoption of more sustainable options.

How will the bioeconomy help us meet these SDGs?

TR: In most cases, a Bioeconomy developments were in line with SDG expectations (positive correlations). The few areas with trade-offs indicate that the Bioeconomy will help us meet the SDGs to the extent the Bioeconomy itself is sustainable. This means that past tensions observed between agricultural development and agrobiodiversity (SDG 2) have to be addressed and that the amount of biomass used in EU bio-based value chains (SDG 8 and 12) has to remain within sustainable limits. The mode of agricultural (SDG2) and bio-based industrial (SDG 9) development also have to limit the trade-offs that were observed on past data.

GP: Indeed, a large component of the bioeconomy is the agri-food system, whilst a sustainably responsible food system also lies at the centre of the SDGs, permeating numerous dimensions (e.g., hunger, climate change, education, health etc.). Moreover, as a provider of biomass, the bioeconomy is active in a number of spheres (food, feed, energy, industry). The challenge, therefore, is to recognise the ‘right’ balance to help us achieve as many SDG synergies as possible.

How will the BioMonitor project help policymakers address the SDGs while strengthening the European bioeconomy?

GP: The mission of BioMonitor is to raise awareness to those activities that could potentially be a driving motor of responsible and sustainable growth in the future. As stated within the aims of the project, BioMonitor seeks to draw public attention to the data gaps that currently prevent us from effectively measuring and monitoring the progress of the bioeconomy, and in this way, encourage government statistical offices to (re-)consider how best to fill these knowledge gaps. In equal measure, BioMonitor quantitatively assess the potential of, and possible challenges facing, the European bioeconomy in achieving fair and sustainable green growth through state-of-the-art foresight modelling.

What type of information will be presented to these policymakers?

TR: The BioMonitor project seeks better documentation of the dynamics at stake in bio-based value chains which is of foremost importance for helping policy makers understand where and how to guide the European Bioeconomy. In addition, the BioMonitor project will enable policy officers developing forward looking analyses and test different Bioeconomy policy options by providing ad-hoc modelling tools.


To read their publications, head on to our Technical Insights page!


Biomonitor, press release, 2020-10-20.


Aragonese Foundation for Research & Development (ARAID)
European Commission
European Union
Joint Research Centre (JRC)