Food, energy or biomaterials? Are EU policies ready for the bioeconomy?

20 May 2021
Biobased economy
Agri-food policy
Science-policy interface
Uncertainty
Ambiguity

A new publication from MAGIC researchers from Wageningen University and Research and University of Bergen analyses the policy coherence between agro-food and bioeconomy policies. The European Union envisions a bioeconomy, a model of the economy based on replacing fossil-based products with biomass-based products, to address challenges such as climate change. However, given the diversity of biomass (e.g. forest biomass, crop biomass) as well as the diversity of policy domains that govern its use (agriculture, food, waste, energy etc), it can be difficult to maintain coherence between policy domains.

The researchers find that when assessing coherence of policies, it is important to clearly map out the knowledge-base, including uncertainty, to find out possible trade-offs as well as synergies. Utilising a coherency scoring system and a diversity of experts, the paper finds that at first glance agro-food policies and bioeconomy policies are largely consistent. However, as one digs further into expert opinion, one finds a number of context dependencies and uncertainties emerge, particularly around the possibility of decoupling, future land use and the levels of consumption of animal-source food. These uncertainties in turn depended on context-based factors such as  definition, implementation, as well as geographical and temporal scale. To identify what sort of action is needed in response to uncertainty, the researchers argue it is important to distinguish between different types of uncertainty. The study also gives some concrete suggestions for policy, such as defining better criteria for a cascading use of biomass.

For more details see the original publication in Environmental Science & Policy (open access):  https://doi.org/10.1016/j.envsci.2021.05.001.