Political processes of bioeconomy between economy and ecology

burgeoned leaf
Photo: FernUniversität, Ingrid Lacher

The project “Political processes of bioeconomy between economy and ecology – BIO-ECOPOLI” is funded by the Federal Ministry of Education and Research for three years within the funding line “Bioeconomy as Societal Change” (external link). It is realised as a joint project of the FernUniversität in Hagen and the Otto-von-Guericke-University Magdeburg.

Participating chairs:

Bioeconomy

What is Bioeconomy?

Bioeconomy is a new programmatic concept of recent German and international innovation policy. It comprises technologies, procedures and products that, especially in industrial and energy production, substitute fossil resources with renewable raw materials. The consideration of the entire value chain, including the cultivation of raw materials, their processing, the refinement of bio-based products as well as the resource efficient use of biogenic residues and waste materials, is at the core of the concept of bioeconomy. Bioeconomic policy promotes or regulates the development, establishment and use of such technologies, procedures and products. The key objective of bioeconomy policy is to permanently ensure the supply of required raw materials for economy and society. Further objectives are strengthening Germany and the EU as centers for technological innovation, ensuring global food security as well as protecting climate and biodiversity.

Conflicts of objectives

Knowledge gap: political processes dealing with conflicts of objectives within the bioeconomy

Policy messages about the bioeconomy as documented i.e. in the national research strategy Bioeconomy 2030 name objectives as mentioned in the section “Bioeconomy” but specifically acknowledge emerging conflicts of objectives as well. Addressing those conflicts and developing opportunities to resolve or mitigate them is an important topic in socio-economic research for them. Impacts on the environment (i.e. climate, biodiversity, water and soil) due to the implementation and application of many bioeconomic methods and products in the context of energy generation, industrial production and waste disposal can be expected, indeed. Positive effects, particularly mitigation of climate-wracking gases are discussed as well as negative effects of the bioeconomy on the environment, i.e. by changed and intensified land use for biomass production.

Research of different professional disciplines may contribute to identify and assess eventual economic benefits and environmental consequences, which are to be expected or yet identified. However, decisions about the acceptable relation between economic and ecologic impacts should take place within an appropriate framework for social negotiation processes. Within democratic political processes, policies for the initiation, promotion or regulation of bioeconomic techniques, procedures and products are negotiated, adopted and possibly resolved. These processes inevitably take place in a political multilevel system on different territorial levels and in the interaction between them.

The majority of existing research about the bioeconomy addresses questions of technological innovation, challenges of practical implementation or questions about regulatory structures (“governance”). Furthermore, critical points of bioeconomy politics are illuminated, like questions of legitimacy and justice, problematic social and ecological effects or underlying power relations and governance structures that are perpetuated through bioeconomy. In many cases, the specific logically and chronologically overlapping political processes and decisions about the promotion, application, the political framework or the regulation of these technologies and methods remain neglected, respectively. Up to now, a lack of empirically sound and theory-based studies about political processes that initiate, promote or regulate bioeconomic techniques, procedures and products can be stated.

Issues

Premises and issues of the project

The research project deals with the topic “bioeconomy” on two premises:

Based on the knowledge gap outlined in the section “conflicts of objectives”, firstly, it deals only with those bioeconomic procedures that induce goal conflicts between environmental protection and other objectives, such as safeguarding global food security, permanent supply of the industry with raw materials or promotion of economic innovation in Germany. We consider these conflicts as highly relevant and up to now, we identified only little research in this field from a political science perspective.

Secondly, the project deals with questions of policy design regarding the handling of these goal conflicts. For this, Policy Field Analysis offers important theoretical perspectives. Hence, we focus on political decisions about the promotion, application or regulation of the bioeconomy, particularly on measures of bioeconomic policy in the field of tension between economy and ecology. We also focus on bioeconomic policy in Germany; therefor decisions on different territorial levels (local, regional, national, and EU) have to be considered.

The specific questions of the research project are:

  1. Which are the typical framework conditions of political processes towards a bioeconomy regarding problem structures, actors and their interests, institutions and instruments, and how, i. e. by what causal mechanisms, do these conditions affect the development of these processes and the political results?
  2. What is the role of environmental effects of bioeconomic procedures (positive, negative, ambivalent or uncertain type) in political processes of bioeconomy, what types of conflicts appear and how are they resolved?
  3. What are the starting points for resolving or defusing such conflicts in the sense of an active design of transformation towards a bioeconomy? What specific recommendations can be derived from these starting points, i. a. for the inclusion of actors, the choice of the operational level, for the design of decision-making procedures, and the choice of instruments?
  4. How can the gained knowledge implemented in social science discourses, in discussions within natural and engineering sciences, in higher education, as well as in the economic and political practice?

Methods

The project examines these questions in the context of three thematic fields of the bioeconomy:

  • Bioplastics (FernUniversität in Hagen),
  • Biofuels (FernUniversität in Hagen),
  • Bioenergy (OVGU Magdeburg).

In these thematic fields, qualitative, theory-based case studies will be carried out that are comparative both, within and across the thematic fields. In qualitative policy analysis, cases are defined as policy measures or packages of policy measures. The aim of case selection in this context is to cover bioeconomy issues on various levels of decision-making that are both environmentally relevant and controversial, and to select cases that are characteristic for the respective thematic fields and levels of decision-making.

Theory

The project analyses political processes of the bioeconomy using the Political Process Inherent Dynamics Approach (PIDA). PIDA serves as a heuristic analytical framework that draws attention to specific factors that can play a role in the explanation of the adoption of a specific policy. From a PIDA perspective, political processes are neither understood as immediate results of conflicting interests and power struggles nor as pure problem-solving processes, but rather as processes that are shaped by inherent dynamics of these explanatory factors and their interplay, which are decisive for policy outcomes. This inherent dynamic stems, for example, from the multitude of motives of actors apart from problem-solving and from the nature of policy instruments as following other logics than just solving politically defined problems. Applied to the political processes of the bioeconomy, PIDA draws attention especially to actors, institutions, problem structures and political instruments as explanatory factors for these political processes.

Book suggestion:

Umweltpolitik in Deutschland, Eine politikfeldanalytische Einführung [external link]
Authors: Böcher, Michael; Töller, Annette Elisabeth

Further information about our project in our flyer (pdf).




A joint project of the universities:

FernUniversität Hagen
​​Universität Magdeburg

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​funded by:

​​Bundesministerium für Bildung und ForschungProjektträger Jülich

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Bio-Ökopoli | 18.09.2018
Projekt „Politische Prozesse der Bioökonomie zwischen Ökonomie und Ökologie“ (Bio-Ökopoli)