The recently published “EU Bioeconomy Strategy Progress Report” presents the state of play of the implementation of the 2018 updated Bioeconomy Strategy and Action Plan and the overall progress of the bioeconomy in Europe.   

In the report the Commission concludes that the actions are well on track and already contributed to the objectives of the Green Deal, namely for Europe to become climate neutral by 2050: “With our current fossil-based economy having reached its limits, the transition towards a new societal and economic model, based on the sustainable and circular use of biological resources, has become one of the Union’s core tasks.”  

Bio-based is generating economic wealth in Europe  

The report delivers strong data on the important role of the bioeconomy sectors in generating economic wealth across Europe: The manufacturing of bio-based products provides 7.92 million jobs with a value added of EUR 433 billion in Europe (8.3 % of the European labour force and 4.7 % of its GDP in 2019). Europe’s global market share for bio-based chemicals and materials of about 31% is twice as high as the one of the fossil-based sectors. And the bio-based share of about 3% in EU’s domestic chemical market shows an important growth potential.   

With the consumption and demand for bio-based products showing strong progress, one of the highest substitutions of fossil-based by bio-based chemical products has taken place in the field of bio-based polymers and bio-based packaging. Hence, the report acknowledges that bioplastics are an important part of the bioeconomy and will shape the future of the plastics sector. They contribute substantially to achieving the ambitious climate targets as well as socio-economic targets, such as creating more jobs and growth, and fostering vibrant and sustainable rural areas.     

Lack of a long-term policy pull  

However, the report also confirms that there is still a lack of a comprehensive regulatory policy approach. Coherent, clear, and consistent policy tools are needed to create a long-term pull and leverage for bio-based products.   

The current policies and legislative developments support leveraging synergies in bioenergy, but not bio-based materials and products. Yet, creating a level playing field on the market, including appropriate pricing for fossil resources and subsidies for bio-based products will be critical for the bio-based sectors to thrive and continue to invest in research and innovation.   

In fact, with the current EU regulatory developments continuing this path, the already overwhelming dominance of fossil-based feedstocks is only further cemented. Additional hurdles also hamper the switch to bio-based products. All this thwarts key principles of the Green Deal, amongst others, the decoupling of economic growth from resource use and the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions. It also questions the EU’s longstanding commitment and financing of R&I on breakthrough innovations of bio-based, biodegradable, and compostable plastics.   

Predicted ‘biomass gap’ and pressures on land  

With multiple pressures on the agricultural land, the Commission predicts a ‘biomass gap’ of 40-70% by 2050 between supply and demand of biomass for food, materials, and energy. The problem is amplified considering the current crisis following the Russian invasion of Ukraine: “Europe requires to increase its independence on energy and to strengthen food security, without leaving the path towards a sustainable, resilient, and fair economy as outlined by the European Green Deal”.