Coordinating the Bioeconomy (The Five Cornerstones)

A truck full of sugar cane crosses farmland in Brazil, a leader in bio-based ethanol production from the crop. (Image: Lalo De Almeida/Contrasto/eyevine )

More than 40 nations1 are proposing to boost their ‘bioeconomy’ …

… the part of the economy based in biology and the biosciences.

Around US$2 trillion of products in agriculture and forestry, food, bioenergy, biotechnology and green chemistry were exported worldwide in 2014, amounting2 to 13% of world trade, up from 10% in 2007. These sectors are central to at least half of the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), from food security to ensuring energy access and health. But conflicting national priorities make it hard to align bioeconomy policies to meet the SDGs on a global scale.

Bioscience leaders such as the European Union, Japan and the United States see expanding the bioeconomy as a means of reindustrializing and creating wealth (see ‘Bioeconomy breakdown’). Emerging industrial economies such as China and India see biotechnology as a nascent field of innovation in which they can quickly compete. Brazil, South Africa and Malaysia are investing to add value to their vast biological resources. Ecological sustainability is a prime concern in rich and industrializing countries; inclusive rural development and equitable sharing of resources is central in developing countries.

Knock-on effects of decisions made in one place may be felt elsewhere. The EU’s plan to ecologically certify its bio-based products will impede producers in poorer countries who lack testing infrastructure. In India and Brazil, strict bio-piracy regulations, which aim to protect biodiversity and traditional knowledge, are failing to benefit local populations and are stalling international research in plant biodiversity.


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  1. Communiqué of the Global Bioeconomy Summit. Making Bioeconomy Work for Sustainable Development (2015); available at
  2. Intesa SanPaolo. La bioeconomia in Europa: 2° Rapporto (2015); available at (in Italian).
  3. Coady, D., Parry, I., Sears, L. & Shang, B. How Large Are Global Energy Subsidies? (International Monetary Fund, 2015).
  4. Bioökonomierat. Global Visions for the Bioeconomy: An international Delphi-Study (Office of the German Bioeconomy Council, 2015); available at
  5. von Braun, J. in The Fight Against Hunger and Malnutrition (ed. D. Sahn) 240–262 (Oxford Univ. Press, 2015).
  6. US National Academy of Sciences. Industrialization of Biology: A Roadmap to Accelerate the Advanced Manufacturing of Chemicals (National Academies Press, 2015).
  7. Peplow, M. Nature Biotechnol. 33, 1123–1125 (2015).


  8. Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations. The State of World Fisheries and Aquaculture 2014 Highlights (FAO, 2014).
  9. Ronzon, T., Santini, F. & M’Barek, R. The Bioeconomy in the European Union in Numbers (2015); available at


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