Bioeconomy: Engaging with citizens.
The planet we live on is not infinitely resilient. This realization is not new and is becoming increasingly apparent in numerous places around the globe, even if other issues are currently at the forefront of public attention. A social rethinking is necessary to initiate a sustainable and responsible use of our natural resources. The topic of the bioeconomy addresses a central question in this context:
How can we as a society produce and consume in the future without exceeding planetary stress limits?
Dialogues and discussions are often at the beginning when it comes to initiating new thought processes. Against this background, the Federal Agency for Nature Conservation (BfN) and the Federal Ministry for the Environment, Nature Conservation and Nuclear Safety (BMU) would like to invite a broad debate on the topic of the bioeconomy. The basis for the discussion is the German government's National Bioeconomy Strategy. The aim is to attract as heterogeneous a group of potential discussants as possible for this discussion in order to be able to generate as broad an opinion as possible. Bioeconomy should contribute to sustainable development.
Background: Opportunities and risks
Against the background of nature conservation and the preservation of biological diversity, the concept of the bioeconomy holds a number of opportunities. However, even here the trees do not grow to the sky: planetary impact limits provide us with a strict framework for the future design of the bioeconomy.
Knowledge and innovation are key components of the bioeconomy. There are many ways in which the development of environmentally friendly and resource-saving production and processing methods can be built into an environmentally compatible and sustainable bioeconomy in new regional value chains. The application of innovative agricultural and forestry management methods also offers opportunities for improved environmental and climate protection.
Digitalization and, in particular, precision farming applications can apply fertilizers and pesticides in a targeted, site-specific manner and thus help to save them in the long term. New forms of management in agriculture such as agroforestry systems (a combination of woody plants with arable farming and/or animal husbandry) ensure an improvement in local biodiversity, nutrient balance, and soil and groundwater quality. Through cascade and circular economy, raw material potentials are used as efficiently as possible in terms of materials and energy. Various bioeconomy concepts can also be adapted to characteristic site conditions. The use of locally specific raw materials opens up new value-added potentials. Thus, challenging jobs are created and the attractiveness of rural regions is increased.
The basic idea of the bioeconomy is based on replacing fossil raw materials with a renewable, biobased raw material base. Terms such as renewable or regrowing suggest a limitless availability of raw materials. However, the ecological impact limits of biomass production are already being exceeded. Germany imports a large part of its land from abroad to meet its biomass needs. The expansion of the bioeconomy will be accompanied by an increasingly growing demand for biobased raw materials. In order to provide sufficient bioenergy and biomass for industry in the future, in addition to healthy food and feed, the pressure on available (natural) land is increasing.
The expansion of industrial biomass production thus leads to increased utilization pressure on natural landscapes and a further loss of species and habitat diversity. The high consumption of fertilizers and pesticides damages water and soils. A 1:1 substitution of petroleum-based raw materials cannot and must not be the goal of the bioeconomy. This conflict cannot be avoided in the long term by the application of smart technologies alone, but requires at the same time a more conscious (sufficiency) consumption behavior - Less, Better, More Regional.
Framework: Planetary boundaries
In 2009, international scientists published the concept of Planetary Boundaries for the first time, which makes statements about the health of the Earth and the livelihoods of humankind.
In this concept, nine global processes determine the resilience and stress limits of our planet. Six of these have direct consequences for humanity. The situation is already borderline in the areas of climate change and land use change. In the areas of genetic diversity and the phosphorus and nitrogen cycles, the stress limits have already been greatly exceeded.
Thus, four of the nine planetary boundaries have been severely exhausted or exceeded altogether. This leads to irreversible damage to the stability of ecosystems and thus to a threat to the basis of human life.