The European bioeconomy in 2050: four foresight scenarios

The Commission’s 2020 Strategic Foresight Report mentions the potential of a sustainable bioeconomy, to transform Europe’s agricultural and industrial base and create new jobs, whilst enhancing our natural resources and ecosystems.

The Joint Research Centre study presents four alternative scenarios for the EU bioeconomy in 2050. ©EU 2021

In collaboration with DG Research and Innovation, the Joint Research Centre has created an ad-hoc network of research experts to contribute to the EC’s Knowledge Centre for Bioeconomy with forward-looking analyses. A team of six core experts have built - upon intelligence from more than 50 additional specialists from across the policy, civil society, industry and academia domains - four alternative scenarios for the EU bioeconomy in 2050.

 

Vice-president Maroš Šefčovič for Interinstitutional Relations and Foresight said: "Strategic foresight helps identify future challenges and ways to prepare for them, by supporting decision-making in an impactful way. Applied to bioeconomy, it is therefore vital, as we live in a world of limited resources. Deploying a sustainable and circular bioeconomy will help us create new bio-based value chains across Europe, while showing that prosperity and the health of our environment can go hand in hand."

 

Mariya Gabriel, Commissioner for Innovation, Research, Culture, Education and Youth, said: "Policies addressing all sectors of activity are more robust if supported by collective intelligence. The foresight process carried out by the European Commission provides scenarios alongside the opportunities and challenges they represent and helps to shape the future we want. This study by the Joint Research Centre is an important contribution and I invite all to enjoy the reading."

 

The scenarios

 

The scenarios describe plausible alternative narratives of the bioeconomy in 2050, based on the multiple drivers that can affect its future, and their interplay, and depending on the realisation of specific boundary conditions.

 

Each scenario describes the world, Europe and the bioeconomy in 2050 and to what extent each scenario would contribute to the objectives of the EU Bioeconomy Strategy and to selected United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).    

 

  • Scenario 'Do it for us': A consistent and coherent set of policies is designed, and implemented to foster radical change in the supply systems, but society resists significant changes in demand (consumption) away from Business As Usual (BAU).
  • Scenario 'Do it together': Both the political system and society are aligned to achieve the climate-neutrality goal and the SDGs. Businesses quickly adapt and are part of the change. The transformative process includes all actors.
  • Scenario 'Do it ourselves': The political system shows an incapacity to implement significant climate and SDG policies. However, consumers change their attitudes and behaviour under the thrust of increasingly influential social movements and the aftermath of a series of dramatic crises. Subsequently, the resulting change in demand (both patterns and levels) drives the supply system to adapt.
  • Scenario 'Do what is unavoidable': Lifestyles do not change significantly from BAU patterns (but consumption levels rise), and the political system is not able or supportive to implement/enforce proactive policies, limiting itself to adopt – with some delay – measures in reaction to crises.

 

The JRC and DG Research and Innovation plan to explore further these scenarios, in order to facilitate and strengthen strategic and systemic reflections amongst key stakeholders of the European Bioeconomy.

 

Strategic foresight

 

Foresight is a systematic, participatory process, creating collective intelligence about the medium- to long-term future. It can support policymaking by informing short-term decisions to ensure they are coherent with long-term objectives.

 

The development of scenarios is one of the techniques used in foresight. It identifies the relevant drivers of change of the system being considered and analyses the interplay between the respective drivers. This helps to develop a deep understanding of the logic and direction of various possible future developments.

 

Bioeconomy

 

Bioeconomy includes all economic and industrial sectors that rely on renewable biological resources from land and sea, such as crops, forests, fish, animals and micro-organisms to produce food, materials, energy and services.

 

It makes up an important part of the EU economy, generating 4.7% of the gross domestic product (GDP) and employing 8.9% of the labour force in the EU-27 in 2017. The 2018 EU Bioeconomy Strategy aims to develop a circular, sustainable bioeconomy for Europe, strengthening the connection between economy, society, and environment.

 

It addresses global challenges such as meeting the SDGs set by the United Nations and the climate objectives of the Paris Agreement. A circular, sustainable bioeconomy can be a core instrument for the Green Deal in the post-COVID-19 era, making the EU more sustainable and competitive.

 

Further information

 

Future transitions for the Bioeconomy towards Sustainable Development and a Climate-Neutral Economy - Foresight Scenarios for the EU bioeconomy in 2050

 

Strategic Foresight Report