bioeconomy and circular economy

Bioeconomy and the sustainable development goals

The role of the bioeconomy sector in the SDG agenda.

The 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, adopted by all United Nations member states in 2015, provides a shared blueprint for future peace and prosperity for people and the planet. The bioeconomy directly links to several of the societal grand challenges contained within the 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) therein, including climate change mitigation, resource depletion, energy, food and water security, among others.

This international global blueprint for sustainable development contributed within the EU towards a recalibration of our bioeconomy model, leading to the 2018 Updated Bioeconomy Strategy taking a more holistic, systems view of the bioeconomy. This advocated for a circular, sustainable model with a greater regard towards understanding the ecological boundaries of the bioeconomy. EU policy has continued on this more sustainable development pathway with the launch of the Green Deal containing a wider sustainability agenda within which a strong bioeconomy dimension is incorporated, which is essentially an EU implementation roadmap for the UN SDGs up to 2030 and beyond towards 2050.


Source: Stockholm Resilience Centre

The bioeconomy seeks new ways of producing and consuming resources while respecting our planetary boundaries, moving away from a linear economy based on extensive use of fossil and mineral resources. Of the 17 UN SDGs, at least half are directly or indirectly addressed by the bioeconomy. When we look at the EU Bioeconomy Strategy, the SDG alignment becomes quite evident across the framework of the three main action areas leading the way towards a sustainable, circular bioeconomy:

  1. strengthen and scale-up the bio-based sectors, unlock investments and markets
  2. deploy local bioeconomies rapidly across Europe;
  3. understand the ecological boundaries of the bioeconomy.

Within action area 1, seeking scale-up of the bio-based sectors, we see direct alignment towards SDG 9 (Industry and Innovation). A sustainable European bioeconomy supports the modernisation and strengthening of the EU industrial base through the creation of new value chains and greener, more cost-effective industrial processes. Research and innovation and the deployment of innovative solutions for the production of new and sustainable bio-based products enhances our capacity to substitute fossil raw materials in very significant parts of European industry (e.g. construction, packaging, textiles, chemicals, cosmetics, pharma ingredients, consumer goods).

Under Horizon Europe,  the European Partnership for Circular Bio-based Europe (CBE) – the successor to BBI JU – will continue to facilitate the development of new sustainable biorefineries, generating over 3,500 direct and 10,000 indirect jobs in both urban and rural areas.

Within action area 2, advancing the deployment of local bioeconomies, some of the SDGs impacted upon include SDG 8 (Sustainable economic growth), SDG 2 (Sustainable food production) and SDG 13 (Climate action).

The deployment of a sustainable European bioeconomy will lead to the creation of up to 400 000 new green jobs by 2035 in rural and coastal areas (SDG 8). The BBI JU/CBE is promoting a more active participatory role for farmer and forester primary producers in the bioeconomy value chain, going beyond that of a mere provider of cheap biomass feedstock. Fair reimbursement for local sustainable feedstocks and the inclusion of multiple stakeholders in integrated value chains can help drive the regeneration of vibrant, inclusive rural economies throughout the European regions. Specific interventions will also be developed under the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) to support inclusive bioeconomies in rural areas.

Despite some earlier food versus fuel issues that have been largely addressed, nowadays a positive bioeconomy impact on food security is recognised. This relates to the valorisation of agricultural and forestry by/co‐products and waste residues in a more resource‐efficient way, providing food and feed for a growing global population (SDG 2). The bioeconomy will contribute towards sustainable land and soil management by substituting chemical fertilisers and pesticides with organic fertilisers and bio-stimulants.

A sustainable European bioeconomy is also necessary to build a carbon neutral future to combat climate change in line with the Paris Agreement (SDG 13). The bioeconomy reduces dependency on fossil‐based materials and energy. Renewable raw materials reduce greenhouse gas emissions by sequestering CO2 in plants during their growth and by replacing the need to extract and emit further CO2 from fossil carbon sources. Bioenergy/biofuels are expected to remain a key component of the 2030 renewable energy mix, complementing wind and solar particularly in areas where electrification will remain challenging (aviation, maritime, road freight).


Finally, within action area 3 addressing ecological boundaries, we clearly see a role for the bioeconomy in SDG 15 (Life on Land) promoting sustainable use of terrestrial ecosystems and halting biodiversity loss. The bioeconomy must be developed in a way that attenuates pressures on the environment, values and protects biodiversity and enhances the full range of ecosystem services. Increasing EU forest cover significantly contributes to combating desertification and halting land degradation and biodiversity loss while providing a growing source of biomass for the bioeconomy. A further example of the bioeconomy contributing to restoring ecosystems is the development of  biobased, biodegradable plastic alternatives towards achieving plastic-free seas and oceans.

Above is just a selection of some of the more notable SDGs that the bioeconomy directly addresses. Clearly, a sustainable bioeconomy valuing natural resources, increasing the use of sustainable renewable products, and restoring and enhancing ecosystems’ functions and biodiversity, has a vision that resonates closely with the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development Goals and will be a sector that contributes hugely to the achievement of these SDGs.