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Sustainable Growth the Nordic Way
WEB MAGAZINE - June 2019

Young frontrunners see potential in developing Baltic bioeconomy

“The circular and sustainable bioeconomy is an emerging sector with great potential,” says Gabor Schneider, Programme Manager for the Baltic Leadership Programme at the Swedish Institute, a public agency that works toward promoting the implementation of the EU Strategy for the Baltic Sea Region (EUSBSR). “The blue and green bioeconomy has really started to take off in the region. Involving youth in that development is a key priority.”

It’s vital for the transition to the sustainable bioeconomy that we increase youth involvement and make these sectors more attractive to new talent

The Baltic Leadership Programme on Youth and Bioeconomy brought together young bioeconomy professionals and environmental frontrunners to discuss sustainability leadership issues in the bioeconomy and gain insights into their views on its further development. The programme was organised together with the Nordic Council of Ministers and the Swedish Board of Agriculture.

“Some of the key sectors of the bioeconomy, such as agriculture, fisheries and forestry, are faced with a problem of ageing,” says Schneider. “It’s vital for the transition to the sustainable bioeconomy that we increase youth involvement and make these sectors more attractive to new talent.”

A survey conducted by consultancy Nordic Sustainability, Norek and Sköld, shows that the participants in the leadership programme see great potential in growing the bioeconomy in the Baltic Sea Region. The most important benefits of the bioeconomy are identified as its potential to ensure sustainable resource management and lower negative environmental impacts, and establish more circular value chains.

Reducing emissions from farming

When asked where they see the greatest potential for growing the region’s bioeconomy, 20% of the participants indicated agriculture, 17% mentioned bio-based energy, 16% food, and 12% forestry. In an op-ed on sustainable growth in agriculture, two of these young bioeconomy frontrunners, Agnė Dapkuvienė and Jussi Nissi, highlight the benefits of carbon farming.

Carbon farming involves implementing a range of practices to increase soil quality, preserve biodiversity and reduce greenhouse gas emission, including crop rotation and shifting livestock between pastures to prevent over-grazing. According to the IPCC Fifth Assessment Report, Agriculture, Forestry and Other Land Use (AFOLU) is responsible for around 24% of total global emissions.

Smart agriculture can make a significant difference for the climate and the environment.

“Carbon farming increases carbon assimilation and storage in the ground,” says Dapkuvienė. “Applying the method makes agricultural production more organic and environmentally friendly. It reduces the need for fertilisers and pesticides, which greatly enhances biodiversity and ecosystem services. Carbon farming increases the long-term yield, as you minimise the risk of exhausting the land. Smart agriculture can make a significant difference for the climate and the environment.”

Fantastic tool for rural growth

As a Research Fellow at Nordregio in Stockholm, Alberto Giacometti has been involved in various initiatives exploring the potential of the bioeconomy for regional development. He sees the circular bioeconomy as a fantastic approach to achieve sustainable growth in rural areas.

“Local politicians have a great responsibility to seize the opportunities of the bioeconomy. And to do so, they should work closely with existing stakeholder networks, continue to build on previous investments in the local area, and ensure that the initiatives produce local value. This is essential.”

Watch the trailer for the video campaign telling stories of the people behind some of the most visible bio solutions in Nordic & Baltic states:

Watch all the stories here: Made of Courage – people in the forefront of bioeconomy

Beyond regulation, Giacometti explains in his op-ed how politicians can explore creative collaboration models to make the bioeconomy affordable in a context of intense global competition.

In the survey, 20% of the participants highlighted networks and cross-border collaboration as the most important prerequisites for fully exploiting the potential of the bioeconomy. Other key factors are development and new business models (19%) and technological innovation (16%). Giacometti also calls for changes in the regulatory and institutional setup.

“We must break the normative lock-ins and establish support mechanisms for producers to change their practices and for consumers to change their behaviour. We must find alternatives to our current heavily exploitative systems and start focusing on the quality of our growth. How does it affect nature, the population and the quality of life?”

Taking a stand through consumption

But is the bioeconomy something new? Not according to Katrin Kepp, Head of Centre of Bioeconomy at the Estonian University of Life Sciences, who describes the term as a new label for a field that has existed for centuries. What is new is the strong focus on adding value by upgrading residues and biological side-streams into new materials and valuable products.

Kepp, together with Santa Niedola, wrote an op-ed on the power of the consumer. The two authors address the intensive use of plastics in society and the need for more sustainable bio-based alternatives.

“Sustainability has different layers, starting with the individual and moving toward the masses,” she says. “Everyone should start from themselves, for example by avoiding the use of plastic bags and reducing food waste. We also see that festivals have started educating people about their ecological footprint and that large international companies are shifting their production to biomaterials. By choosing these bio-based solutions, we can drive sustainable change through our consumption.”

Kepp and Niedola also emphasise the role of legislation in changing consumer behaviour, mentioning the new EU rules on single-use plastics to reduce marine litter as an example. Currently, an estimated 5 trillion pieces of plastics are floating around in the ocean.

“The plastic crisis is a man-made environmental disaster,” says Kepp. “Banning single-use plastics in Europe is obviously highly positive, but it’s important to keep in mind that Asia is by far the largest producer and consumer of plastics in the world. We must address these problems on a global level.”

EUSBSR Annual Forum 2019

The ideas behind the op-eds will be presented at the seminar ‘Blue and green bioeconomy in the BSR from a youth perspective’ at the 10th EUSBSR Annual Forum, which takes place in Gdansk in Poland on 12-13 June 2019.