The European Commission’s Joint Research Centre (JRC) has recently published a study aimed at sparking a positive conversation about the bioeconomy and the role that biomass takes in it. This report provides scientific evidence to support European policymakers and presents a new vision for a bioeconomy that prioritizes environmental sustainability and social equality over economic growth. The JRC underlined that the problems we confront in implementing the ‘Green Deal’ transformation are unprecedented, and its objective is to establish a foundation for a future sustainable society.
The report, which consists of a collection of chapters authored by external scholars to the JRC, presents a diverse range of views, expertise, and perspectives. As it delves into these topics, the report addresses several important questions regarding the role of biomass in our future and the challenges associated with making the world more sustainable, such as:
- How can the EU shift its approach to biomass for better environmental sustainability?
- Is green growth possible?
- What’s the role of biomass in achieving the 1.5°C global warming goal?
The findings of the JRC report reveal a complicated scenario that raises serious concerns regarding the bioeconomy and the role of biomass in building a sustainable society. In this article, we’ll go further into the report’s core topics and their approach to biomass and hope to contribute to a healthy dialogue about the future of the bioeconomy and the potential for long-term growth.
How can the EU shift its approach to biomass for better environmental sustainability?
The JRC study aims to explore the recommended shift in viewpoint regarding the EU’s approach to biomass production and usage concerning environmental sustainability. It has proposed a change in perspective, shifting away from promoting biomass extraction for the sole purpose of decoupling economic growth from the use of fossil fuels and its associated impact on the climate. Instead of this approach, JRC recommends prioritizing environmental sustainability and social equality over economic growth when considering such initiatives. The report highlights that the EU updated its strategy for a “Sustainable Bioeconomy” in 2018, making several revisions from earlier plans, although there is still a focus on using renewable biomass to replace fossil fuels. The importance of biomass has increased as people are becoming more aware of the limited capacity of healthy ecosystems and the need to ensure environmental sustainability in both the production and use of biomass. This is frequently accomplished by the challenge of enforcing legally binding requirements, such as those outlined in Directive 2018/2001 on sustainable bioenergy. Despite occasional beneficial adjustments, other aspects of the old approach, such as the emphasis on green development and a commercial and extractive view of nature, have largely not changed.
Is green growth possible?
The challenges facing the achievement of genuine green growth through biomass production and use are substantial, which suggests it may not be happening currently and may be unlikely to occur in the near future. However, these challenges can also be seen as an opportunity for growth and innovation, as alternatives to biomass-based green growth are explored and new transformative policies are developed. Political acceptability is an obstacle that must be overcome through personal and social change, as well as institutional reforms that support sustainable biomass production and use. While the potential for biomass to contribute to sustainable economic growth remains uncertain, continued research and development can help to unlock this potential and move towards a more sustainable future.
What’s the role of biomass in achieving the 1.5°C global warming goal?
The JRC highlights that the use of biomass has substantial consequences for environmental sustainability, social equity, and the economy, and so requires careful analysis and planning in the context of the challenge of meeting the 1.5°C global warming goal and the shift to bioeconomy. It is critical to understand the significance of biomass in this setting. Over the past few years, there has been a surge in the adoption of biomass as a potential alternative to fossil fuels, intending to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. However, there are valid concerns about the sustainability of its production and its impact on ecosystems. Nevertheless, these challenges also present an opportunity to develop the bioeconomy and establish legal and financial frameworks that prioritize corporate profit over social and environmental sustainability. Nevertheless, these challenges also offer an opportunity to promote a sustainable bioeconomy by establishing legal and financial frameworks that prioritize social and environmental sustainability over corporate profit.
To help achieve the 1.5°C global warming goal, the BioEnergy with Carbon Capture and Storage (BECCS) technology was implemented as a negative emission technology for climate mitigation. However, a recent study suggests that the reliability and viability of BECCS are uncertain. BECCS technology captures and permanently stores carbon dioxide (CO2) from biomass energy generation, but the cultivation of the biomass required for BECCS at the scales suggested by the models could be largely incompatible with other sustainability aspects, such as ecosystems’ health. Moreover, the study highlights how large-scale and multinational corporations in the Global South, particularly agribusinesses, are better positioned to participate and profit from the bioeconomy, while small-scale businesses and local people face barriers such as access to technology, finances, and markets.
Biomass-producing countries in the Global South, such as Brazil, India, and Indonesia, have shown that new regulatory and economic incentives for biomass and bioenergy production have facilitated the cultivation of soybean, sugarcane, and palm oil for biodiesel, ethanol, and other energy production. These findings emphasize the need for further research to evaluate the long-term sustainability and equity implications of relying on BECCS and other negative emission technologies for climate mitigation. With a concerted effort to address the challenges and seize the opportunities presented by the shift to bioeconomy, we can work towards a more sustainable and equitable future.
The JRC is aiming to stimulate a debate regarding the bioeconomy and the role of biomass in it. JRC proposes a new vision for a bioeconomy that places environmental sustainability and social equity ahead of economic development, although its research expresses grave concerns about the bioeconomy and the role of biomass in constructing a sustainable society. In terms of environmental sustainability, the research also advises a reform in the EU’s approach to biomass production and use.
Although there are difficulties in reaching true green development through biomass production and consumption, these constraints create opportunities for research and study, eventually contributing to growth and progress in the sector. The paper emphasises the importance of biomass in meeting the 1.5°C global warming goal and transitioning to a bioeconomy, while also raising legitimate concerns about the sustainability of its production and its impact on ecosystems. Research and development will certainly help unleash the potential of biomass and lead us toward a more sustainable future.
Author: Gianluca Tucci