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An OECD vision (James Philp, OECD)


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An OECD vision (James Philp, OECD)

Since the publication of the OECD book ‘The Bioeconomy to 2030: Designing a Policy Agenda’ in 2009, the global view of the bioeconomy has changed greatly. That book concentrated on biotechnologies and the bioeconomy “refers to the set of economic activities relating to the invention, development, production and use of biological products and processes”. In the years since, the OECD has worked on industrial biotechnology, synthetic (or engineering) biology and sustainability aspects of the bioeconomy, while the latter has come to mean a much wider range of activities. Nevertheless, sustainability remains a central plank of the reasons for governments to develop national bioeconomy strategies, of which there are now over fifty. To some extent OECD work continues to emphasise biotechnologies as they impact biorefining and bio-based production. Connecting biotechnologies to sustainability and the UN sustainable development goals (SDGs), however, has been a hard sell.

This presentation summarises work of the last two-year period and current work. Following work on policy for biorefining, member countries were confronted with a more difficult policy area; how to build the ecosystems and value chains of companies and products that work within the bioeconomy and the gradual replacement of fossil production at the epicentre of the modern world economy. This was supported by ten national case studies and six international workshops. The current work at the OECD remains both sustainability and biotechnology. Publicly funded technology platforms for engineering biology have been created in a small number of member countries and the policy issues are being explored around case studies.

The presentation finishes with a look at how Europe faces challenges and competition in the bioeconomy future. Developing nations no longer see themselves as simply suppliers of raw materials -they are developing the technologies and biotechnologies to be part of the value-added future. Meanwhile, as engineering biology develops rather slowly as an engine of sustainability, the chemicals industry is also changing, and innovating towards sustainability. Finally, despite over 20 years of climate policy and much bioeconomy hype, investments in non-renewables dwarf those of renewables, and global greenhouse gas emissions reached a record high in 2019. Shaping a sustainability future with the bioeconomy at its centre will take more than soft law, good will and aspirations. Governments need to be hard-nosed change-ringers with a more experimental yet strident approach to policy.


 

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