Five Minutes With… Mariya Gabriel, Commissioner for Innovation, Research, Culture, Education, European Commission

Mariya Gabriel
Mariya Gabriel is the Commissioner for Innovation, Research, Culture, Education, at the European Commission, the executive branch of the European Union, responsible for proposing legislation, implementing decisions, upholding the EU treaties and managing the day-to-day business of the EU. Mariya Gabriel will give a keynote speech during the first session, Regulators and Climate Change, at the World Bioeconomy Forum (WCBEF) virtual event to be broadcast live from Ruka, Finland on 10th September 2020. She spoke to the WCBEF about the importance of a sound circular bioeconomy strategy and the bioeconomy’s role in the post Covid-19 world.

What are your thoughts on the importance of a sound circular bioeconomy strategy at government level in relation to climate change? 

Let me start by underlining that Horizon Europe, the European R&I programme for 2021-2027 has the bioeconomy as one of the key areas, together with related domains addressing Food, Natural Resources, Agriculture and Environment.

If European and National strategies are aligned, setting out the strategic orientations for the implementation of a sustainable and circular bioeconomy, these policy areas will have a real impact. From a European perspective, a sustainable and circular bioeconomy is key to achieving the Green Deal’s ambition of making Europe the first climate-neutral continent by 2050.

I think we need to put emphasis on innovation to foster virtuous approaches in such relevant areas of our economy. Many domains will certainly benefit from bio-inspired innovations, the use of new materials and products with low ecological footprint preventing and mitigating pollution.

The bioeconomy is already a reality, with an annual turnover of 2.1 trillion euro, as well as providing 18.3 million jobs in Europe. The bioeconomy is the biological driver of the circular economy as it brings the renewability aspect into the cycle, puts carbon ‘back in the loop’, and brings additional dimensions to the circular economy discussion, moving beyond waste. The bioeconomy should offer solutions for decarbonising the economy through fossil-free materials, resource efficient circular processes and sustainable energy. It can also play a pivotal role in transforming our primary production and food systems towards sustainability and reducing pressures on ecosystems to a level that respects planetary boundaries. Sound governance, infrastructure, finance and capacity building are critical to ensuring that the necessary resources and actors are mobilised and policies aligned.

Bioeconomy strategies have already been developed in 11 European countries and more than 50 EU regions, for example under the BIOEAST initiative. However, a vision and a strategy are not enough. The long-term success of the circular and sustainable bioeconomy will also depend on the ideas from all stakeholders, including from this Forum.

Do you see the circular bioeconomy as having an important role in the post Covid-19 world?

This pandemic has opened our eyes to two striking realities. We realise that we need more investment to deepen our understanding about human-environment interactions. We acknowledge the potentially devastating repercussions of climate change and ecosystem disturbances. They can hit very hard our societies and economies.

A sustainable bioeconomy is in itself a paradigm shift that should favour a just transition for people in the economy of the future.

It will be critical in the recovery period, and in fact, an opportunity for smart investments in bioeconomy that can improve the position of many workers in the rural and agricultural sectors.

This pandemic, with all of its tragic consequences, is offering us an opportunity. We can repeat what we did before and invest our money into the “old” economy, or we can be smart and combine this recovery with the necessary move to a green economy.

A sustainable circular bioeconomy is a concrete tool within our reach, and it can be deployed at all levels: from our own households to industrial proportions. Research and innovation from these past years is now offering us hope to recover our economies, maintain the equilibrium between humans and the planet and enhance our resilience.

The Horizon Europe programme will launch a Mission addressing directly the innovation we need for caring of our soil. The objectives are very ambitious to ensure 75% of soils are healthy by 2030 for healthy food, people, nature and climate. The Mission actions will benefit Member States if they grasp the opportunity to align their recovery plans to increase the impact across Europe.

Innovation will help on tackling the four issues raised by the “Sustainable Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries in the Bioeconomy – A Challenge for Europe” (Standing Committee on Agricultural Research (SCAR) Expert Group) that will impact the implementation of the bioeconomy so that it plays a pivotal role of post-covid Europe. Firstly, research should help develop a framework aimed at fostering the bioeconomy with policies that are coherent, create a level playing field, avoid overexploitation and foster a diversity of practices.

Secondly, there is need for innovative new business models adapted to circularity that require new ways of designing and manufacturing products, new relationships between economic actors, and new ways of recycling components and waste.

Thirdly, research on the socio-cultural dimensions stressing that knowledge on impacts and mechanisms of social change should co-evolve with technology stressing also full stakeholder involvement. Science may change food production and consumption patterns, which may break established routines and create resistance, which need to be better understood. Approaches have legal implications that need to be addressed by research. Education will play an essential role to tackle the final problem related to the need to push circularity down to the consumer level, which is where the largest share of waste is found with no end-of-life valorisation of food.

The World Bioeconomy Forum has a diverse range of high-level speakers and panelists, what are you hoping to achieve by taking part in the event, and what are you hopes for the future of the circular bioeconomy? 

Research and innovation are key to understand, monitor and tackle direct and indirect drivers for a sustainable, green economy, caring for our land, soil, water and air, seas and oceans.

I have big hopes that Europe can engage all relevant stakeholders to make a difference in the coming decade. We have all the instruments and world-leading knowledge to find solutions to reach our objectives.

I hope that this forum will enable a better access for many countries with different economic conditions to the practical solutions that research and innovation can bring to their transition challenges.  This is an occasion for the EU to share our vision of a sustainable and circular bioeconomy with our partners in the rest of the world, and also an occasion to establish channels for knowledge exchange.

I also hope that my participation in the Forum will allow the participants to learn about the excellent research that is being funded by H2020. For instance, the RESIDUE2HEAT project has developed a novel FPBO-fuelled boiler with confirmed positive impacts on environment of FPBO heating compared to fossil alternatives, especially when it comes to reducing greenhouse gas emissions (80-94%). The LIBBIO projects offers a new crop to provide bio-based products from poorest soils. These amazing results can have a positive impact not only on Europe but on the whole world if they are properly known.

This includes knowledge on innovative technologies, and also an understanding of the economic, social and environmental footprints of products and materials imported into the EU from other countries and vice versa. It allows us to deepen our global knowledge and monitoring of a sustainable bioeconomy that protects our natural resources, restores ecosystems, enhances biodiversity and ultimately contributes to a clean planet for all. 

A circular and sustainable bioeconomy must deliver concrete benefits to all of our citizens, e.g. through circular food waste collection or new and more sustainable packaging materials which are produced with sustainably sourced biomass.

This will be crucial to develop more favourable conditions for bioeconomy growth in regions which have untapped potential, such as Central and Eastern Europe. I hope that we can inspire the younger generations through education initiatives to become our sustainable bioeconomy drivers for the future.

Other actions, such as the Farm to Fork Strategy, Biodiversity Strategy for 2030, Industrial Strategy and Circular Economy Action Plan and associated investments will allow the European Union to set a new direction for global public goods such as ecosystems services, and to disseminating knowledge, technologies and solutions to stimulate transformation and systemic change.     


“Regulators and Climate Change” session will also include keynote addresses from other prominent bioeconomy stakeholders, like: Jari Leppä, (Minister of Agriculture and Forestry, Finnish Government), Petteri Taalas (Secretary General, World Meteorological Organization), Mette Wilkie (Director of Forestry Policy, Resources Division, FAO), Andrea Noske (Head of Division “Sustainable Economy; Bio-Economy”, Federal Ministry of Education and Research, Germany). The moderator of the session will be Christian Patermann, “Father” of European bioeconomy and former Director EU Commission and Advisor to the German Government on bioeconomy matters.

Five Minutes With… is a series of interviews being run by the WCBEF to highlight some of the high-level speakers and panellists taking part in the event this year. To view the whole full day programme and register for the event please visit http://www.wcbef.com/