The BioEconomy in 2030: A Policy Agenda by the OECD (link)

May 3, 2005

Paris, 02 May 2005

In 2005, the International Futures Programme (IFP) of the OECD will start a two year project that aims to draft a broad policy agenda for governments in respect to the bioeconomy. The bioeconomy, a new concept 1 , covers a broad range of economic activities, each benefiting from new discoveries, related products and services arising out of the biosciences. The project, which will include partners in government, industry and academia, will assess how pervasive biotechnological applications are likely to become, the prospects for further development over the next two to three decades, the potential impact on the economy and society, and the policy agenda needed to promote and diffuse this new wave of innovations in a way that is consistent with broader socioeconomic goals.

Background and rationale

Recent and continuing advances in the life sciences are making a reality of the prediction that this will be the century of biotechnology. A wide range of R&D activities are maturing at a remarkably rapid pace: healthcare technologies drawing on genetics, genomics and proteomics that promise better health outcomes; more sustainable and higher value-added food - and fibre production systems; cleaner, more eco-efficient biofuels; enzymatic processing in manufacturing that cuts energy and water consumption and the generation of toxic wastes; new bio(nano)materials; biologically based computing, and much more. 20 or 30 years from now, these and many other applications may well become part of our everyday lives, improving health, the environment, and industrial, agricultural and energy production, and affecting our societies as profoundly as information and communication technologies have already done.

What is more, biotechnological techniques, materials and devices could – especially as they converge with other technologies such as IT and nanotechnologies – transform the way a whole host of products are designed, manufactured and used. That transformation of industry and consumption could provide significant opportunities for sustainable growth in both developed and developing countries. It could also lead to far-reaching changes in economic activity and society, as well as to some complex policy challenges.

There is no guarantee, however, that such transformations will happen in ways that optimize the potential benefits of the bioeconomy or, indeed, that it will happen at all. Society will continue to face multiple challenges and decisions from the biosciences and a clear, long-term strategy will be necessary to help policy makers take more informed decisions that will shape how these new developments affect our lives.

Approach and expected results

The project will focus on six key areas: agriculture, health, industry, energy, environment and security 2 . It will examine the key trends and forces shaping progress in biotechnologies in each area, analyse their transformative impacts, and identify where the roadblocks and opportunities.2 lie. It will identify where and how this technology can, and is being deployed to facilitate smarter use of resources, delivering the triple advance of economic, environmental and social welfare goals in a sustainable way.

The project framework will start with measurement issues, building on the already important work carried out in the OECD on measuring the bioeconomy. Statistical data will be assembled to throw light on the ways in which biological sciences have contributed to innovation through productivity, labor, R&D, and trade. Indicators will be developed that aim to determine the impact of biotechnology on health, environment and sustainability of agricultural systems and markets.

The project team will fully utilize existing materials from government, academia and industry which scope and detail the extent to which the bioeconomy is growing 3 The scope of the project is global, and the policy analysis will look at the global interface of policy issues rather than national efforts. Building on a variety of these specialised studies, reports and industry literature, the project will focus on four stages of outputs:

  • building scenarios for the development of the bioeconomy based on new products and services provided by the biosciences;

  • identifying technical, financial, human capital, regulatory bottlenecks, as well as ethical, social and political hurdles that stand in the path of this innovation cycle;

  • providing, as much as possible, a quantifiable benefit analysis in selected areas (health, agriculture, environmental impacts);

  • providing a road map of necessary policy choices ahead, principally at the international level.

The project will begin by using materials to construct scenarios "to image" the bioeconomy in the future landscape 25-30 years ahead. As biotechnologies converge with other technologies, changes in economy and society will become more widespread and more deeply embedded. By "imaging" alternative futures in this way, the scenarios will serve to identify which economic and social activities can produce the greatest impacts, who the potential winners and losers are likely to be, what new strategic alliances may emerge among the different sectors, how the relationship between public and private actors may evolve, and – crucially -- which policy issues (sectoral and cross-sectoral) will likely have most impact on longer-term outcomes.4 Discussion of these key policy issues could provide first elements of a strategic biotech policy framework aimed at achieving a better balance among economic, social and environmental objectives as the bioeconomy of the future materialises.

The first level of analysis will be to assess the likely developments, opportunities and challenges on a sector-by-sector basis (agriculture, health, industry, energy, environment and security).

This will include benefits to the economy as well as bottlenecks and hurdles to innovation.

A second level of analysis will examine cross-linkages and the secondary impacts that changes in each sector are having across other sectors. Where are the policy mismatches? Where are policies working against each other (subsidies for practices in one sector that play against.declared goals in another). What new strategic business alliances are emerging in the agriculture, energy, chemicals and other industries as a result of the convergence of technologies?

A third level of analysis will explore the prospects for developing a framework for policy co-ordination to provide a soft-steering approach to the emerging bioeconomy, with a view to promoting a bioeconomy that delivers co-optimisation of the triple goals.

The project will also address measurement issues, building on the already important work carried out in the OECD on measuring the bioeconomy. Statistical data will be assembled to throw light on the ways in which biological sciences have contributed to innovation through productivity, labor, R&D, trade and consumer services. Indicators will be developed that aim to determine the impact of biotechnology on health, environment, and sustainability of agriculture systems and markets.


The project will provide a road map for governments in dealing with the development and diffusion of products and services derived from the biosciences. A number of governments have produced white papers or prospective studies on different aspects of the biosciences 5 and these will be analysed, compared and used as the basis for drawing up a global view of both the challenges and opportunities that lie ahead for governments in promoting and utilising the benefits derived from biotechnologies.

The framework which will be developed within the project will serve to guide policy development in creating measures to ensure, insofar as possible, that the optimum vision for the bioeconomy becomes a global reality, one which achieves maximum benefits for the environment, the economy and social welfare.

This framework will be discussed at a final conference of partners and stakeholders in late 2007. In addition, the framework will be used in the context of the design of a policy agenda for the proposed Biotechnology Committee of the OECD.


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