Irish bioeconomy sets environmental sustainability standards

What is Bioeconomy?

The bioeconomy uses renewable resources from agriculture, forestry, and marine to produce food, feed, materials, and energy, while reducing waste, in support of achieving a sustainable and climate-neutral society.

Developing the bioeconomy is consistent with Ireland’s low-carbon transition objectives. Favouring renewable biological resources over fossil fuel-based ones, through the expansion of the bioeconomy, whilst keeping sustainability concerns to the fore, has the potential to contribute to meeting Ireland’s climate change targets.

Why is Ireland in a good position to embrace the bioeconomy model?

Ireland enjoys some important comparative advantages related to the bioeconomy and the government is determined to capitalise on these. Much of Ireland’s advantage in the bioeconomy sector can be attributed to its natural capital and strength in agriculture. The country has a relatively long growing season, a temperate climate and fertile soils, with growth up to 10 months of the year. The horticulture sector was worth over €400 million in 2014.

Innovations in integrated management, bio-actives, circular practices, technology and advances in plant genetic research and plant phenotypes, give the sector the potential to grow its output to over €500 million in the medium term.

There is a natural synergy between the agrifood sector and the developing bioeconomy. For example, Ireland has a strong sheep sector. Wool is a natural, sustainable, low carbon, organic and renewable material that can be used in a wide range of products like biofertilser, insulation, packaging, and textiles. It can replace fossil-based materials and can be substituted for imported products.

Irish wool and its by-products are an undervalued resource. The Department of Agriculture, Food, and the Marine has awarded a project to review the potential demand for innovative wool-based products such as insulation and fertilisers to a consortium of commercial entities and academic researchers. This project aims to identify actions and inform the government on a roadmap to support both the wool industry and sheep farmers.

The below quote comes from the Minister of State in the Department of Agriculture, Food, and the Marine (DAFM), Martin Heydon T.D speaking at the 1st meeting of the National Bioeconomy Forum.

The greater utilisation of biological resources ticks the boxes when it comes to economic, environmental, and societal sustainability. It can create new sources of income for the agriculture, forestry, fisheries, and broader agri-food sector.

How is the Irish government supporting the move towards a bioeconomy?

The Government’s Action Plan for Jobs and Action Plan for Rural Development called for an assessment of the potential of Ireland’s bioeconomy to further contribute to economic development and the transition to a low-carbon economy.

The National Development Plan Project Ireland 2040 is the Government’s €116 billion development plan, which highlights the potential of the circular bioeconomy. It promotes the more efficient use of renewable resources while supporting economic development and employment in rural Ireland. The government published the first national policy statement on the bioeconomy in 2018.

Investment in research has supported the advancement of the knowledge and innovation base to develop the Irish bioeconomy. Since 2018, the DAFM has invested €25 million in bioeconomy research, including diversification of protein sources and new biomass streams, and producing new biopesticides and biofertilisers. The DAFM is moving further into the implementation stage through developing its latest  Bioeconomy Action Plan for the period 2023-2025.

What else could enhance the development of the bioeconomy in Ireland?

To fully develop the circular and bioeconomy of Ireland, there is a need to promote circular thinking and create an environment in which circular business models can thrive.

Developing the bioeconomy requires that policymakers understand how the design and coherence of public policy can contribute to or create barriers, to its development. The key sub-sectors related to the bioeconomy in Ireland have independent policy documents for their own developmental process with obvious potential for conflict. The National Policy Statement on the Bioeconomy published in 2018, sets out how the bioeconomy will be developed through greater policy coherence across all relevant sectors including food and agriculture.

With such strong performance within the agrifood sector, Ireland is also in a strong position to exploit advances in the bioeconomy and develop a more circular economy. The Irish government is supporting the bioeconomy as a means to meet its sustainability goals, as well as supporting the rural economy development.

This means increasing investment as well as implementing plans to support research and innovation within the sector. The government has also set out how a more coordinated approach will help to ensure a greater chance of success.

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