EU Science Hub

How big is the bioeconomy?

Abstract: 

The critical role of the Circular Bioeconomy in the sustainable transition has been widely recognised, to the point that a number of countries worldwide have elaborated their bioeconomy strategies and others are in the process of framing their own. The purpose of this report is to advance more objective and rigorous measurement and analysis of the bioeconomy according to the broad definition of the European Commission in 2018. Our focus is mainly on the economic indicators, aiming at the inclusion of bio-based services derived from the symmetric input-output tables from the system of national accounts available from Eurostat and additional expert information. As the main conclusion of the report, we propose a synthesis of input- and output-based approaches. This is motivated by the fact that determining the bio-based weights according to the input-output tables implicitly assumes that the bio-based share of outputs is the same as that of inputs. Clearly, this is not the case for the primary bio-based production sectors – agriculture, forestry, fisheries and aquaculture. Where the outputs are completely bio-based for these sectors, the inputs are far from being 100% bio-based. On the other hand, relying exclusively on the bio-based content of the output would ignore the use of bio-based inputs in the production process. To take into account the bio-based content in both inputs and outputs, we propose to consider weighted averages for the industries. Before applying the new methodology, adjustments are performed with regard to the value added of the bioeconomy by adding the net subsidies, the bio-based shares of the wholesale and retail trade industries, the water supply, sewerage and recycling, as well as the sports and recreation sectors. Applying the methodology with the adjustments proposed, our estimate for the EU-28 bioeconomy in 2015 reaches €1,460.6 billion value added, which is 11% of the GDP. The nova-JRC methodology, used in many bioeconomy publications, calculates €621 billion value added for the same year. This difference is mainly explained by the contribution of €872 billion by the tertiary bioeconomy sectors in the proposed methodology. This novel methodology addresses different challenges for measuring the size of the bioeconomy and eventually providing a basis for evaluating its contribution for a sustainable transition. The approach allows for yearly updates following the calendar of Eurostat I-O tables, probably with a 3 to 4 years delay. It relies on a thorough estimation of the bio-based shares of the inputs and outputs of the various sectors. The authors believe that these are fundamental elements to ensure that “The next era of industry will be one where the physical, digital and biological worlds are coming together” (European Commission 2020a). Taking account of the diversity of EU’s bioeconomies and sectors, this report broadens the ongoing discussion on how to measure and determine the contribution of the bioeconomy to a sustainable and circular economy.