We are doing science for policy
The Joint Research Centre (JRC) is the European Commission's science and knowledge service which employs scientists to carry out research in order to provide independent scientific advice and support to EU policy.
The European Commission has just updated the strategy to boost Europe's bioeconomy. In this interview, two JRC bioeconomy experts reflect on the challenges, opportunities and scientific achievements linked to bio-based economy.
Our natural resources and ecosystems are not infinite. Therefore, an innovation effort is needed to feed people and provide them with the products and energy they need. In 2019, the European Commission will launch concrete measures to scale up bio-based sectors, rapidly deploy bioeconomies across Europe and to better understand the impacts of the bioeconomy on the ecological boundaries of our planet.
Today, the European Commission hosts a high-level event entitled "Sustainable & circular bioeconomy, the European way" to officially launch the updated EU Bioeconomy Strategy and Action Plan.
We took the opportunity to speak to two of the JRC experts involved in providing scientific support to the EU's Bioeconomy Strategy.
What do we mean exactly when we talk about bioeconomy?
"It is all about replacing fossil resources by biomass feedstock in a way that is environmentally, socially and economically sustainable. The term bioeconomy refers to the complex matrix of sectors and systems that rely on biological resources, i.e. plants, trees, algae, marine organisms, microorganisms and animals to produce products, food and energy", explains Marios Avraamides, coordinator of the Bioeconomy Knowledge Centre at the JRC.
"It is a very broad and complex concept as it includes and links the land and sea ecosystems in which biological organisms live, the economic sectors producing them – agriculture, forestry, fisheries and aquaculture – and the economic sectors processing them to make food, feed, products and energy."
Why is everybody talking about it now?
"We have only been talking about it in the last decade, but the idea is as old as humanity. In the pre-petroleum era, principles of the bioeconomy were used as the norm for producing materials and energy, in addition to food and feed of course", clarifies JRC researcher Tevecia Ronzon.
"The concept has gained importance for the fundamental role that the bioeconomy can play in the transition towards a low-carbon economy. The bioeconomy sector currently provides jobs to 18 million people across the European Union and contributes 4.2% to the EU GDP. The updated EU strategy will boost the deployment of bio-based solutions."
As the science service of the European Commission, what role can the JRC play?
"The role of the JRC is to provide scientific evidence to be able to respond to key policy challenges. We want to be able to provide answers to questions such as: What are the ecological boundaries that the bioeconomy must respect? What are the social and economic benefits of the bioeconomy in the European Union? Are there any specific dynamics in the Member States?
In brief, the JRC compiles existing evidence and generates new scientific knowledge for monitoring the progresses of the bioeconomy towards sustainability objectives", explains Tevecia.
What is the role of the Knowledge Centre for Bioeconomy?
"To realise the potential of a sustainable bioeconomy, EU policies need to be coherent across different sectors. This can only happen if policy decisions are based on shared and robust evidence", Marios underlines.
"The Knowledge Centre for Bioeconomy collects evidence from different sources, including the JRC's biomass assessment study, other relevant JRC projects, studies undertaken by other Commission services, and also external sources . We make this knowledge available in a transparent, tailored and concise manner. At the same time, the Knowledge Centre enables us to bring together – virtually and physically – JRC researchers like Tevecia, EU policy makers and other experts in this field to share their knowledge."
What are the future challenges for the JRC?
"The JRC and the Knowledge Centre for Bioeconomy it coordinates will have a key role in implementing the action plan of the new Bioeconomy Strategy, adopted a few days ago", Marios confirms.
"One of the actions is to enhance knowledge on the bioeconomy. We will be looking at issues like the supply and demand of biomass and the environmental impacts of biomass use, food-waste and its valorisation, the condition of EU ecosystems and their services, as well as forward looking scenario analysis. We will also build a monitoring system to track progress towards a sustainable bioeconomy."
Any interesting research going on at the moment?
"Of course! At the JRC, we always try to solve different kinds of scientific puzzles to be able to respond to important policy questions", says Tevecia.
"I am now investigating how the bioeconomy can contribute to reaching Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). We know that the different bioeconomy actions can contribute to several SDGs at the same time, for instance industrial innovation and climate action. But we have to make sure that the pursuit of one given goal is not done at the expense of another one. Identifying these synergies and trade-offs would help improving the links between the bioeconomy and the SDG framework. My colleagues in other research teams are focusing on many other important questions. "
The JRC played a key role in the preparation of the updated EU Bioeconomy Strategy. It provides the Commission services with data, models and analyses of EU and global biomass potential, supply, demand and sustainability.
JRC scientists carry out socio-economic analyses, develop tools that enable forward-looking policy analysis and conduct research on different bioeconomy sectors, including forestry, agriculture, fisheries and aquaculture, bio-based industries and bioenergy.
This work provides direct input to EU policies.