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Madis TilgaModern society faces fundamental intertwined challenges, which need to be dealt with swiftly and often simultaneously. Climate change, resource scarcity, regional disparities, environmental hazards, population growth are underlying aspects of any serious decision making process. For many years the concept of „green growth" or „green economy" has been adopted to address the above mentioned challenges. Now, bioeconomy - as part of green growth - takes a very pragmatic approach in an attempt to decouple economic growth from environmental pressures by focusing on the sustainable use and production of both land-based and marine biomass.

What is it all about?

Before the fossil revolution and long before solar panels and wind parks, renewable biomass was used for energy purposes and production of various commodities. Then came petroleum disruption/take over. Bioeconomy intends to claim back much of it by analysing bio resource value chains and introducing modern technologies to ensure the best and efficient utilisation of these. Bioeconomy is based on the efficient use of renewable terrestial and aquatic natural resources as well as residual biomaterials and biowaste. It includes primary production, such as agriculture, forestry, fisheries and aquaculture, and industries using / processing biological resources, such as the food, pulp and paper industries, parts of the chemical, biotechnological and energy industries.

In practice it can be viewed in three aspects. First, we try to see alternative ways of using biomass that until now has been only converted to energy. Idea is to find the most efficient and optimal use for biomass. There might be more value to certain biomass than just to burn it. That said, bioenergy absolutely will play its role. Secondly, we try to reveal the potential of untapped bio resources. This would imply for example marine biomass – reed harvesting, algae collection, small scale fish farming etc. Thirdly, we try to get rid of waste streams or attribute value to certain part of the value chain that until now has been regarded as waste. Organic waste streams lock huge potential. For example in EU food processing and organic household waste reach both up to 200 mil/tonnes/per annum; yard&forestry waste twice as much and agricultural waste even close to 1 bil/tonnes/per annum. Again, this implies finding the most optimal use for bio resource, regardless in which part of the value chain it is present.

What is in it for islands and rural areas?

The overarching aim regarding bioeconomy and rural/coastal development is to find out what does it take to make the bioeconomy as the main driver for sustainable local economic development. This is central issue for the work of the Nordic Council of Ministers and is being met with engagement from local stakeholders, innovation agents and research.

Where do the rural areas or more specifically, the islands come in? Most naturally, this is where biomass is, most notably the marine biomass in the case of islands. There are already some pre-studies and practices emerging regarding possible uses of reed, algae collection and cultivation; small-scale fisheries, blue biotechnology. Good news is that this bioeconomy approach doesn't often require huge capital investments but rather cross-sector dialogue and analysis to see where the potential lies under current circumstances. Finland has strong pulp&paper industry and growing number of capture fisheries. Fish feed is expensive, specially produced. Now, they are discovering that certain residues from pulp and paper could be converted into fish feed. Fish industry for Iceland is of paramount importance. They are now trying to imporve the efficiency of cod industry. They claim they are now able to use 100% of cod, compared to conventional 57%. There will be inputs to chemistry, material industry, cosmetics, jewellery.
Again, finding the most optimal and valuable use for bio resource is the ultimate goal.

Political engagement

There is a growing political endorsement for bioeconomy because with its cross cutting nature it can deliver on wide range of issues: contributing to climate goals, regional policy, environmental protection, resource efficiency, waste management and not the least - innovative economy. According to EU estimates bioeconomy in Europe has a turnover of around 2 trillion EUR and already employs 22 million people. On 13 February 2012, the European Commission adopted a strategy "Innovating for Sustainable Growth: A Bioeconomy for Europe" to accelerate this process. All the Nordic countries have bioeconomy high on agenda (with respective strategies in place), joint Nordic Bioeconomy Initiative has been launched and Nordic Council of Ministers has been appointed with the task to faciliate developments within bioeconomy according to EUSBSR HA Sustainable Development and Bioeconomy. In Estonia the Ministry of Agriculture is taking the lead in national bioeconomy co-ordination, Latvia is examining the matter.
In the near future the Nordic Council of Ministers is convening series of stakeholder meetings and seminars around the Baltic Sea in order to identify regional stakeholders, map interests and shortcomings with the final aim of rolling out joint actions.

Look for more: http://www.norden.org/en/theme/nordic-bioeconomyor contact:
Madis Tilga (Baltic side),
Mads Wolff (Nordic, Germany, Poland).

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