18 March 2020 | Reading 4 mins.

The bioeconomy – bringing life to the center of our economy

Marc Palahí
Director, European Forest Institute

Marc Palahí, Director, European Forest Institute

The industrial era and the fossil-based economy which have dominated the last 200 years of our history are coming to an end. Our economic system – powered by the massive use of fossil-based resources – has made possible the greatest and fastest economic, social and technological progress in human history. However, it has also resulted in an unprecedented environmental crisis, which is putting at risk life on our planet, and the economy that sustains our world.

The climate crisis and biodiversity loss are two sides of the same coin: the crisis of our fossil-based economic system

The way forward is clear: we need a new economic system that functions within the renewable boundaries of our planet. How to transition towards it is the tricky part: it requires the greatest economic change in human history. It means decarbonizing our economy in three decades while enhancing our natural carbon sinks and biodiversity. All this while making sure that we have a socially fair and inclusive transition.

To do this well, we will need transformative and holistic policies, massive investments and innovations at many different levels to rethink business models, markets as well as consumption and production cycles. But above all, we need to address the past failure of our economy to value nature, because nature and life (bio) need to become the prosperity engine of the new economic system. The good news is that the advance of technology in the biological, physical and digital worlds as well as new concepts like the circular economy and the bioeconomy makes this transition possible, while offering the greatest business opportunity of the 21st century.

The bioeconomy as a catalyst

Moving to a carbon-neutral economy requires fossil-free energy and a shift to fossil-free and renewable materials to decarbonize important industrial sectors like construction, transport, clothing, chemicals and packaging. To do this sustainable shift, the only renewable alternative that we have is to transform biological resources, which are carbon neutral by nature, into a new range of bio-based solutions to replace materials like plastics, concrete and steel. This is what the bioeconomy – using advanced technologies – can do.

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