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Sustainable Growth the Nordic Way
WEB MAGAZINE - June 2019

Politicians, stay calm, and develop the bioeconomy

Politicians are in a state of panic. However, unlike the world-famous climate activist Greta Thunberg, I am not suggesting that politicians should panic about environmental degradation and climate change. I am simply describing what – to me – appears to be a state of paralysis from our politicians, and seemingly a fear of the urgent decisions they need to make to address the environmental crisis.

The global environmental crisis might seem too complex to be solved with easy solutions, yet there is much that local communities can do. The transition to a more sustainable economy is much more about people than about technology and regulation. And people are ready to change – the younger generations in particular are ready and willing to join the green transition.

Bioeconomy – a solution to the environmental crisis in the Baltic Sea Region

According to Nordregio studies, approximately 50% of the biomass produced worldwide is wasted. With smarter management, waste could be utilised to produce bioenergy, chemicals, and other products. In the Baltic Sea Region, the rich abundance of both land and marine-based bioresources, and the high levels of education, skills, and knowledge, represent an enormous potential for expanding the bioeconomy. Transitioning into the bioeconomy not only reduces environmental impacts but also increases opportunities and competitiveness in small communities, by generating local knowhow, high-quality jobs, and better lives.

There are many success stories in the Baltic Sea Region to learn from. In a number of cases, local authorities have advanced the bioeconomy by capitalising on existing knowhow and natural resources. For example, North Karelia in Finland became a leader in renewable energy production by supporting local forest owners and associations in expanding the use of forests. At the same time, North Karelia significantly increased turnover and employment in the renewable energy sector, while cutting CO2 emissions by 20%.

Politicians boost the bioeconomy by building on local knowledge and resources

Skive, a rural municipality in Denmark, built up a green business park, GreenLab, where industries enjoy a symbiotic relationship by both consuming and supplying locally produced renewable energy and resources. The business park functions as a lab for accelerating green-transition ideas. According to GreenLab, the green business park was not developed out of thin air, but is the result of extensive experience in developing green transition initiatives and solid partnerships with existing networks and actors in the region.

In Karlstad, Sweden, in the ‘Paper Province’, over 200 companies linked to the pulp and paper industry have clustered to benefit from each other’s waste streams. Co-location enables them to experiment with new technologies and eco-friendly products to make use of otherwise wasted resources. Through joint local action, the region can access reach international markets they would not have otherwise reached.

However, the success in these regions did not suddenly appear overnight – it is the result of a long history of collaboration and networking, with support from the local authorities.

Successful bioeconomy strategies require leadership and close dialogue with the community

Politicians need to be bold, transparent, and put the interests of the community at the core of new policies and green initiatives. However, John Bryden from the Norwegian Institute of Bioeconomy Research (NIBIO) and other researchers explain that inspiring changes concerning people’s lifestyles and culture are not easy and can spark conflict and opposition. The successful implementation of the bioeconomy therefore depends on dialogue across the community.

According to a study carried out by Nordregio, many of the forestry industries are local co-operatives, so forest owners can make joint decisions and build trust. By working closely together, local authorities and the forestry associations have developed a bioeconomy model based on co-ownership of district heating plants, which makes the transition affordable, generates better jobs and additional revenues that stay within the community. Direct communication has made it possible to identify joint solutions and break the institutional lock-ins. Starting locally, mobilising the local producers and using existing natural, human, and institutional resources, is vital for transitioning into a sustainable bioeconomy.

Ultimately, change requires politicians who are unafraid of making bold decisions, providing direction, handling opposition, but most importantly, politicians who get people involved and explore place-based solutions. My advice to politicians is: stay calm, talk to the community, and develop the bioeconomy!