Bioeconomy Investment Summit – how to move from niche to norm
On 9-10 November, the European Commission gathered about 500 people from whole Europe at their high-level Bioeconomy Investment Summit. The event was hosted by the EU Commissioner for Research, Innovation and Science, Carlos Moedas, who opened the conference together with Phil Hogan, Commissioner for Agriculture and Rural Development, emphasising the high relevance of the agriculture and forest sector in the bioeconomy.

Commissioner Carlos Moedas highlighted the importance of bioeconomy for developing rural areas, diversifying energy sources and advancing industries and asked how the bioeconomy can be moved from a niche to a norm. He described the bioeconomy in terms of stocks and flows, where the stocks of available biomass need to be increased, without negatively affecting the environment, and the flow of using biomass can be improved through innovation and new infrastructures. Connecting to the circular economy, which is a subject that is currently high on the EU's political agenda, Moedas pointed out that “the bioeconomy should be the green engine of the circular economy”.

Commissioner Phil Hogan emphasised how farmers, forest owners and rural areas in general can make a difference in terms of bioeconomy as well as employment and economic development. Among other aspects he pointed out the need for a sufficient biomass supply for the bioeconomy and that forestry is very well placed to already contribute to it. Hogan raised the bioeconomy as an opportunity for new revenue streams for foresters and farmers, stressing the need to ensure proper income to the primary producers. He mentioned the different funding and investment mechanisms in place, and highlighted the need for investments for instance into sustainable forest management, feedstock supply, marketing tools and the establishment of producer groups and cooperatives.

The CEPF Secretary General, Aljoscha Requardt participated in the panel discussion on forestry and new bio-based products in the morning, together with representatives from Södra Cell, Metsä Fibre, Arizona Chemicals and FERN. As an inspiring example for a significant and notable bioeconomy investment in Europe, Ilkka Hämälä, CEO of Metsä Fibre, presented the Metsä Group’s 1,2 billion EUR investment into the new bio-product mill in Äänekoski, Finland.

Mr Requardt emphasised the importance of Europe’s millions of private forest owners and their resources availble for building a European bioeconomy. He noted that “Bioeconomy is not just about new innovative industries and products, it is also very much about a guaranteed sustainable domestic (European) biomass supply. Without a sustainable domestic biomass production or even intensified production, there will be no future EU bioeconomy.Therefore clear investments and support for the rural sector are needed. We have to assure that the rural sector – with its millions of farmers and forest owners – remains attractive and competitive.” In terms of investments, he highlighted the need for further support in wood mobilisation and building the infrastructures in the rural and forest sector needed. Furthermore, he emphasised the need to further strengthen and invest into the traditional forest industry and products, such as the woodworking industry, and seek also there for new innovation and investment opportunities, as these industries and their products already largely contribute to the decarbonisation of Europe’s economy.

The panel discussion also touched upon the sustainability of forest resources. Mr Requardt pointed out that the EU should rather promote Europe’s forest sector developments and investments in order to strengthen its competitiveness, instead of interfering into Member States and forest owners competency to secure sustainable forest management at national and ground level, where multiple solid instruments are already in place. Regarding the competing uses of wood, the need to let the market decide is clearly seen as the best option. No further regulations such as on cascading use are needed.

For the closing panel of the event, Commission Vice-President Jyrki Katainen responsible for Jobs, Growth, Investment and Competitiveness, pointed out how an innovative bioeconomy clearly matches with the European Commission’s number one priority of jobs and growth. He emphasised again the example of the Metsä Group investment, which is supported via Katainen’s flagship project the European Fund for Strategic Investment (EFSI), but emphasised also the need for more finances to various small scale projects and start-ups.

During the conference, the importance of creating a stable policy environment was highlighted several times as one of the most important things for attracting investments into the European bioeconomy. It was pointed out that so far the EU has failed in providing this. In addition, public awareness and understanding of what the bioeconomy means was raised as an important factor to move forward.

Mairead McGuinness, Vice-president of the European Parliament, said we “need to reconsider how we discuss bioeconomy and make it clear and understandable for citizens” and suggested a bioeconomy roadshow in order to localise and broaden the discussion. She reminded the audience that “agriculture is about more than food, forestry is about more than wood and fisheries is about more than fish”. John Bell, Director of Bioeconomy at DG Research, confirmed that DG Research’s key priority right now is anchoring the Bioeconomy in the broader Circular Economy.

At the second day of the summit, various research, innovation and technology projects were presented and discussed, including several forest and wood related projects. Parallel to the conference, participants had the chance to visit an exhibition with the “bioeconomy flat” in the centre, which was furnished and decorated with several everyday objects that show and explain how the bioeconomy is already part of our lifes.

Further information about the summit and its agenda can be found here.