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Academic Special Session: Growing the Bioeconomy?

Growth and Degrowth in the Transition to a Bio-Based Economy

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In recent years, “the bioeconomy” has emerged as a subject of research and policy formulation and, increasingly, as an area of new kinds of economic activity. The bioeconomy debate entails a vision of substituting fossil resources with biogenic materials as a basis for production in terms of energy and material inputs. Bioeconomy concepts cover a wide range of applications from fuels and plastics to advanced chemicals, pharmaceuticals or construction materials. Politically, the bioeconomy has become a priority with the formulation of numerous bioeconomy strategies across the globe, starting with a policy paper by the OECD (2009), followed by strategies in Germany (2010) the EU (2012), the USA (2012) and Malaysia (2013), among many others.
The bioeconomy concept connects to a range of other plans for “sustainably” transforming the economy, such as the “green economy”, “circular economy”, or even the SDGs. Ideas of greening, reuse and circularity are all discussed as cornerstones of future sustainable economies. In some respects, this might be interpreted as a shift away from core principles of current capitalist economies, including the growth imperative. Indeed, while in political strategies, the bioeconomy is framed as a technological fix to restore growth, many voices in scientific debates are skeptical or even critical of the idea of long-term bio-based growth.
This special session intends to assess the bioeconomy debate from a Degrowth point of view: Can the bioeconomy be a pathway to or part of a Degrowth transition, or is it merely another growth strategy, based this time on biotechnological innovation and the efficient use of biogenic resources? What different strands of bioeconomy-related debates and actual transformations coexist, how do these relate to growth, and what opportunities for Degrowth could arise? These questions will be addressed in several contributions, focusing both on current scientific and policy-oriented debates and on actual transformation processes already underway on a regional level.