The Bioeconomy : a new challenge for ecological transition

About four months ago, the United Nations declared a climate emergency by announcing that we had “twelve years left to act against climate change”. This situation reminds us of the 1970s, when scientists from various backgrounds were mobilized. From economics to biology and political science, many have collaborated to propose solutions. The famous MIT report entitled The Limits to Growth written by Dennis Meadows’ team attests to this, it is not, however, the only one. Although critical of it, we also find some researchers from the Science Policy Research Unit (United Kingdom) with their book Thinking About the Future: A Critique of the Limits to Growth, but also the economist Nicholas Georgescu-Roegen calling for caution in advocating “de-growth” and the use of Promethean technologies. These scientific conceptions considered innovations and technological change as their main common point.

Since the 1980s, technological change integrating environmental issues, known as environmental innovation, or eco-innovation, has raised many hopes, but also disillusionment, as explained in the recent book Environmental Innovation and Eco-design: Certainties and Controversies at ISTE (2018). At the same time, new trajectories of innovations from the world of chemistry and biology appear to create new viable equilibria between the economic and living world around the paradigm of the “Bioeconomy”. Today, the Bioeconomy is a new paradigm for “green” growth and for ecological transition, as the OECD’s (2009)[1] and European Commission’s (2017)[2] technology roadmaps show. Indeed, much hope is emerging around agroecology, biotechnology and biorefineries. Despite this, the concept of Bioeconomy is still weak. It is indeed polysemous and based on various representations causing significant effects. First, recent scientific research questions its meaning: this is the case of the bibliometric analysis carried out by the collective d’Amato et al. (2017), which invites us to understand the differences between bioeconomy, green economy and circular economy. Then, other researchers, such as Jeanne Pahun, Eve Fouilleux and Benoît Daviron (2018), warn us about the consequences of a real semantic shift that may confuse policy makers. Finally, the recent results from the research team of the BIOCA project (Bioeconomy in Champagne-Ardenne PSDR4 – University of Reims Champagne-Ardenne) confirm this by demonstrating that there is currently no dominant design in the Bioeconomy. On the contrary, Franck-Dominique Vivien, Martino Nieddu, Nicolas Béfort, Romain Debref and Mario Giampietro (2019) identify three forms of Bioeconomy based on their own logic and operating rules. The first one, the Type I Bioeconomy, as the team calls it, focus on the energy and influences exerted by entropy on biological evolution, of which our society is a part. The second one, the Type II Bioeconomy, focuses on either on the world of genetics with biotechnology considered to be the origin of a new Kondratieff cycle. The third one, called the Type III Bioeconomy, attempt to absorb the other two by structuring itself around a bio-based carbon economy at the expense of numerous resistance. Faced with this diversity, the ecological transition is far from having achieved its goal and raises profound questions about the governance of innovation.

Romain Debref


[1] OECD Report «The Bioeconomy to 2030: designing a policy agenda.»

[2] European commission report : « Bioeconomy development in EU regions »

About the author :

Romain Debref is Associate professor in economics – REGARDs Research Unit– University of Reims Champagne-Ardenne – BIOCA Project – Bioeconomy in Champagne-Ardenne – (PSDR4)

More info : 

Debref, R., (2018), Environmental Innovation and Ecodesign – Certainties and Controversies, ISTE/WILEY, Vol. 17, London. Available at:


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