I just came across this very interesting article from Roeland Bosch, Mattheüs van de Pol and Jim Philp, published in the International Weekly Journal of Science Nature

The authors consider that the future of the bioeconomy requires global sustainability metrics and the creation of a dispute resolution center. They emphasize what we’ve all been already suspecting, namely that world governments haven’t really reached consensus on what “sustainable ” means under the bioeconomy discussion. Such ambiguity can lead to unwanted side effects that will hamper the development of the bioeconomy. Such side-effects can be: “mistrust and protectionism, international disputes and barriers, slow investment and slower growth.”

Developed nations will have an ever-growing demand for biological raw materials and they will rely more and more on developing producing countries. These in turn, as it has been the case with the production of other goods and services, will likely strive to meet these new demands without accounting for the environmental or social costs.  The authors point to Europe, which they consider cannot grow enough biomass to meet its future demand for biomass.  Depending on bioenergy policies, biomass use is continuing to rise and imports to Europe are estimated to triple by 2020. So where will all this biomass come from?

In order to avoid such conflicts, and align international standards, the authors suggest designing metric for evaluating sustainability that includes social, economic and environmental factors.  The total factor productivity (TFP), is one suggested option. The TFP would take into account the changing conditions and local situations in biomass importing and exporting countries.

It becomes clear that some sort of international agreement is needed on the key biomass sustainability criteria.I would like to point out that the bioeconomy relies on more than just biomass. Indeed it is “bio” but , in theory at least, it should build on reusable resources in a green, circular economy. Lastly the discussion on other ecosystem goods and services should be given more attention. What about clean water, soil, air, recreation? Aren’t such services part of the green economy, or the bioeconomy? If so how do we account for the social and environmental costs? and will all this be sustainable?

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