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Sustainable bioeconomy for a decarbonised world

At the Global Bioeconomy Summit held in Berlin in November 2015, international agendas were adopted that aim to integrate the bioeconomy as part of the development of a sustainable global economy and the fight against man-made global warming. The Summit also called for halting the further deterioration of planetary environmental processes to ensure a sustainable future.

"We cannot solve our problems with the same level of thinking that created them." Albert Einstein

The globe and its green resources. © GBS 2015

The first Global Bioeconomy Summit (GBS 2015) to which the German Bioeconomy Council had invited was held in Berlin on 25th to 26th November 2015. It surpassed previous, similar events not only due to its international prominence, but also due to the purposeful approach to the discussion of concrete ways to successfully implement bioeconomy strategies. In her welcome address, German Chancellor Angela Merkel, the conference's patron, highlighted the obligation of every single one of us to deal responsibly with finite natural resources. In view of the important decisions on climate and sustainability policy that had to be made, she stated that she hoped all participants would find the meeting interesting and the discussions stimulating.

Change is inevitable

In his keynote address, former EU Commissioner Janez Potočnik described the alarming condition of our planet. Of ten worldwide processes that underpin life on Earth, four have exceeded safe levels – some massively. They are: human-driven accumulation of CO2 in the atmosphere and global warming, loss of biodiversity and land system change, as well as high levels of nitrogen and phosphorus. The latter have already damaged countless water courses due to over-fertilisation and threaten to transform extensive marine areas into oxygen deserts where higher life forms cannot survive. In 2016, the richest one percent of people on the planet have as much wealth as the remaining 99 percent. A few years ago, the figures were 20 percent and 80 percent. This rising inequality cannot be sustainable. Potočnik’s conclusion: “change is inevitable” and “everything needs to change, so everything can stay the same” (as Giuseppe di Lampedusa famously said).

Dr. Janez Potočnik delivering his keynote lecture at the GBS 2015. Potočnik is former EU Commissioner for Science and Research and EU Commissioner for the Environment. He is now co-chair of the International Resource Panel (IRP) of the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP). © GBS 2015

In the past, the bioeconomy was mainly regarded as the shift from an economy based on fossil fuels and raw materials to an economy based on renewable resources, mainly from agricultural production. Georg Schütte, State Secretary in the German Federal Ministry of Education and Research, stressed that everyone knows that “renewable” does not mean “sustainable”. There is no question that the provision of enough food for a global population that is growing by up to 80 million people every year is the highest priority; this is followed by the use of renewable resources as raw materials (biomass). Energy production comes third.

However, the current global food system is neither sustainable nor environmentally friendly, as Jeffrey Sachs, who participated by video, stressed in a stirring speech. Sachs, a world-famous economist and director of the UN Sustainable Solutions Network, argued that the agricultural sector was the biggest producer of greenhouse gases and the most important factor in man-made climate change on Earth. This sector is responsible for 70 percent of freshwater consumption, 30 percent of the world’s nitrogen load and the greatest percentage effect on biodiversity and genetic diversity loss.

Pathways towards a circular economy

Georg Schütte, State Secretary in the German Federal Ministry of Education and Research, at the GBS 2015 press conference. © GBS 2015

The GBS 2015 workshops and lectures dealt with feasible pathways and efforts that must be made in order to achieve a sustainable bioeconomy in the foreseeable future. Today's throw-away society must be replaced by a circular economy that produces no waste and pollution, a society in which individual processes (cascade use) return all raw materials that it uses into the production system and, by the end of the day, consumes as much CO2 as is released into the atmosphere. The “decarbonisation” of the world economy would then have the potential to stop global warming.

With its National Research Strategy BioEconomy 2030 and the National Policy Strategy on the Bioeconomy aimed at adopting a circular economy in Germany within the next fifteen years, the German government sees itself in a leading position. “This makes us responsible for sharing our knowledge. Only if we ensure that our bioeconomy knowledge becomes part of the international debate, we will be able to achieve a global effect,” explains Prof. Dr. Joachim von Braun, co-chair of the Bioeconomy Council. The Bioeconomy Council is an independent advisory board to the German Federal Government and is tasked with implementing these goals. Joachim von Braun also presented two comprehensive studies on the bioeconomy that can be downloaded from the Internet: 1) an analysis of the importance of the bioeconomy for global politics and 2) a Delphi study featuring future lead projects selected and evaluated by the international expert community.

Agenda for world transformation

Prof. Dr. Joachim von Braun, co-chair of the German Bioeconomy Council and director of the Centre for Development Research at Bonn University. © GBS 2015

In the final GBS 2015 communiqué, the Bioeconomy Council defined the five priorities of a global political agenda moving towards a biobased economy:


  • using renewable resources, ensuring food security and protecting the ecosystem
  • rendering measurable the bioeconomy’s contributions towards sustainable development goals
  • promoting economic and scientific collaboration
  • driving forward education, joint learning and dialogue
  • taking into account the role of the bioeconomy as a whole in world transformation in terms of sustainable development and climate stabilisation.

The Global Bioeconomy Summit 2015 was thus one of several major international negotiations held in 2015 whose goal is to ensure the environmentally sustainable future of our planet. The GBS 2015 was preceded by the UN Sustainable Development Summit, where 150 state leaders and/or representatives convened in New York and adopted the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development comprising 17 objectives for world transformation. Just a few days after the GBS in Berlin, the United Nations Climate Change Conference (COP 21) opened in Paris, and some delegations travelled directly from Berlin to Paris. On 12th December 2015, 195 governments signed a global agreement on the reduction of climate change, undertaking to pursue efforts to limit temperature increase to 1.5°C above pre-industrial levels. This goal cannot be attained within the next few decades without rigorous decarbonisation of the world economy. It is too early to celebrate. The resolutions first have to be implemented.

German Bioeconomy Council (2015): Bioeconomy Policy – Synopsis of National Strategies around the World
Global Visions for the Bioeconomy – an International Delphi Study


Website address: https://www.biooekonomie-bw.de/en/articles/news/sustainable-bioeconomy-for-a-decarbonised-world