From pro-growth and planetary limits to degrowth and decoloniality: An emerging bioeconomy policy and research agenda

Sabaheta Ramcilovic-Suominen, Markus Kröger, Wolfram Dressler

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In 2012, the European Commission (EC) introduced the new bio-based economy or bioeconomy policy project, since adopted by about 50 countries. Alongside politicians, various research and other interest groups have promoted the bioeconomy as inevitable, apolitical, and a triple-win strategy for nature, people, and the economy. Recently, bioeconomy is also actively promoted and framed as transformative. Yet what is transformative or even new in the EU bioeconomy policy, and why is it important to critically engage with the concept of bioeconomy, especially but not only in the so-called Global South? To address these questions, we revisit the discursive field of the bioeconomy, outlining two dominant yet opposed visions that focus on economic growth and planetary limits respectively. We term them ‘pro-economic growth’ and ‘pro-planetary limits’ bioeconomy visions. Drawing on the literature and our own empirical research in market-based, ‘green’, ‘climate friendly’, and ‘bio-based’ economy policy approaches and initiatives, we highlight the EU bioeconomy's embeddedness in colonial and neocolonial logics of domination and green extractivism. While our examples are drawn from the Global South they connect and resonate with the wider European bioeconomy project. We argue that the existing EU bioeconomy visions are poorly suited to address multidimensional and intertwined existential and civilisational challenges, including overconsumption, extractivism, and global socioecological inequalities and injustices. Employing the decolonial environmental justice, feminist political ecology and degrowth literature we outline the missing narratives, ideas and logics and their potentials for fundamental and systemic change in and beyond the bioeconomy project. Finally, we highlight gaps in policy and research that warrant further attention, including: self-reflexivity in identifying policy problems and solutions; historical contextualisation of the EU's role in global environmental governance; silencing and (mis)representation; and reprioritisation of multiple existences and life-supporting practices, together with the relevant epistemologies and ontologies that support them.
TidskriftForest Policy and Economics
StatusPublicerad - nov. 2022
MoE-publikationstypA1 Tidskriftsartikel-refererad


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