Raising awareness of the bioeconomy
The bioeconomy concept is rapidly growing in importance on a global scale. It embraces the sustainable use of biological resources from the land and sea, as well as waste, as inputs to food and feed, industrial and energy production, and also covers the use of bio-based processes inindustry. This is vital as we continue to consume the Earth's resources, many of which are not renewable, at an accelerating rate.. The bioeconomy is already a reality. For example, bio-fuels (ethanol and diesel), are being made directly from agricultural crops, and even bio-waste has the potential to become an alternative to chemical fertilizers or to generate bio-energy, which could meet 2 % of the EU renewable energy target. Indeed Europe is leading the way in various fields of biosciences and technologies but international competitors are catching up.
The European Commission set out the challenge and opportunity in a Communication launched last year, "Innovating for Sustainable Growth: a Bioeconomy for Europe". This set the goal of moving to a low-emissions economy, integrating demands for sustainable agriculture and fisheries, food security, and the sustainable use of renewable biological resources for industrial purposes, while ensuring biodiversity and environmental protection.
The overall aim is to move the European economy towards greater and more sustainable use of renewable resources, building on research, innovation and investment. Anticipation and upgrading of knowledge and skills and better matching of skills and jobs are key to the success of the bioeconomy strategy in delivering growth and new employment opportunities in Europe.
Already the EU bioeconomy has a turnover of nearly EUR 2 trillion and employs more than 22 million people, accounting for 9 % of total employment in the EU. But action will be needed to support its growth.
A bigger bioeconomy will require policy makers at national and EU levels to be prepared with the knowledge and skills necessary to develop and adapt policies to support its expansion. To date, very few such opportunities exist. An expanding bioeconomy will also require communication skills to effectively discuss the nuanced complexities of modern bioeconomy with the public and to engage civil society.
Investment, research, innovation and skills are seen as key areas of focus to ensure growth and further integration of the bioeconomy sectors. In addition implementing multidisciplinary education programmes, encouraging mobility, and organising the development of new bioeconomy curriculum in universities and providing new training opportunities for those in high but also low skilled jobs.
With this mind, a conference "New skills for a European Bioeconomy" was hosted recently by the European Commission. The conference brought together bioeconomy and education and training stakeholders to discuss the role of skills development in driving and facilitating the growth of the bioeconomy and seizing the employment opportunities that this implies. The conference discussed the new skills needed for academia, industry and primary producers; the pathways for their acquisition; as well as how those new skills, competences and capacities could be optimally put to work to drive change and develop new models for the future of the bioeconomy sectors.
The conclusions will be presented at a bioeconomy stakeholder conference, planned to take place in Dublin on 14-15th February 2013. The debates of the conference are expected to provide useful inputs for future activities under the EU's next research funding programme, Horizon 2020.