Global Bioeconomy Summit

Speech by Dr Georg Schütte, State Secretary at the Federal Ministry of Education and Research in Berlin

Forschungsstaatssekretär Georg Schütte während seiner Rede
Forschungsstaatssekretär Georg Schütte während seiner Rede © Stefan Zeitz

Distinguished Members of the Conference Committee,
Ms Daniel,
Mr Trigo,
Distinguished speakers,
Ladies and Gentlemen,

In the past, the Federal Government's innovation policy focused strongly on fossil and mineral raw materials. Intensive use was made of technology and the engineering sciences to extract and use mineral ores, oil and gas as well as hard coal and lignite. These methods led to unprecedented progress and prosperity in many parts of the world, but also to the huge challenges which we are now facing in the 21st century.

Findings in the life sciences have made tremendous progress in recent years and there is good reason to hope that by understanding biological processes we will be able to revolutionize traditional economic practices. By employing biological raw materials and principles we could once again harmonize human economic activities with nature – through a sustainable bioeconomy.

As we already heard in the first strategic debate this morning, innovations are the key to linking ecology and economy. The Federal Government has held this conviction for a long time. Innovations pave the way for a biobased, sustainable economy founded on a comprehensive conversion to raw materials.

Concrete examples can be found in all sectors of industry: We already have a large number of biobased products and processes – whether it be in the food or consumer goods industries, the textiles, chemical or energy sectors. Perhaps you have already come into contact with some of these products this morning. The bioeconomy exhibition in the foyer shows a selection of well-known biobased products involving the use of bioplastics or enzymes, for example. Some of these products may have surprised you – for instance, car tyres made of rubber derived from dandelions. This is a plant which grows prolifically in our regions and could make European car makers less dependent on the availability of sub-tropical rubber in future. The exhibition only presents a small selection of products but it demonstrates the role which biobased innovations already play in diverse areas of our lives today. And it also shows that the bioeconomy is not an abstract concept relating to the future, but has long become part of our everyday life.

What is more, biobased innovations can provide solutions to conflicting societal aims – for example, the problem of ensuring global food security for a growing world population whilst at the same time pursuing sustainable energy paths based on the use of renewable biomaterials. Our task as policy-makers is to prepare the way for the introduction of these new sustainable solutions.

Anyone who wants to establish a sustainable bioeconomy in the long term must attach particular priority to research and development. We in Germany have been successful with this approach in the past – not only with regard to the bioeconomy.

We began gathering all the important stakeholders in innovation under the umbrella of our High-Tech Strategy in 2006. Analyses have shown that our approach over the last ten years has made a significant contribution to prosperity, growth and employment in our country. The Federal Government therefore decided to launch an updated version of the High-Tech Strategy in 2014 – with an even stronger focus on translation. The bioeconomy is a central pillar of our strategy. It provides an important interface in the area of the "Sustainable Economy and Energy" for the priority tasks of value creation and quality of life. Our National Research Strategy BioEconomy 2030 fits in with this priority task.

As I stressed at yesterday's opening reception, Germany is aware of its responsibilities as an industrial country with a large ecological footprint. We were therefore one of the first nations to devise an independent research strategy for the bioeconomy. What is more, this strategy is being implemented on an interministerial basis.

We are addressing the entire range of uses of biological resources, which we have classified into five key fields of action: global nutrition, sustainable agricultural production, healthy food, the industrial use of renewable biomaterials and the expansion of bioenergy. Furthermore, we have defined cross-sectional topics such as internationalization, which we consider plays a particularly important role in the bioeconomy.

This is in accordance with one of the guiding principles of the High-Tech Strategy, namely that knowledge increases through sharing – at regional, national and international level. By helping German researchers to network with their international colleagues and cooperate in solving problems we are able to strengthen our contribution to mastering global challenges.

The example of the European Research Area shows that cross-border work-sharing in research and development can be very successful. For years now, Germany has been an active partner in numerous funding activities on the bioeconomy – under the old 7th Research Framework Programme and the new Horizon 2020 research programme. Close cooperation with other countries represents a win-win situation. It avoids duplicating calls for proposals, national research priorities complement one another, large-scale projects can be managed jointly with the help of cross-border cooperation schemes – be it in the field of basic academic research or via public-private partnerships.

Of course, Europe is just one element of our international activities. With our "Bioeconomy International" and "Securing the Global Food Supply" funding measures we in Germany have created instruments which enable German researchers to conduct targeted collaborations with researchers from Africa, South America and Asia. Two challenges must be mastered in this context:

  • First of all, we must ensure that cross-border projects take place on a level playing field. This is the only way to guarantee a long-term transfer of knowledge in all directions.
  • Secondly, adequate financial resources must be available to provide all the partners in the collaboration with sufficient funding.

One of our most important tasks at the moment therefore is to conclude bilateral agreements on the bioeconomy with a growing number of non-European funding agencies. This will make it possible to issue even more joint calls for proposals in the future.

So you can see that we in Germany are doing our utmost to support the development of a globally networked bioeconomy research community. We must look beyond our national borders if we are to make progress. We must ask: What kinds of competencies exist and where? Where are specific priorities already being successfully pursued?

The Bioeconomy World Tour will carry you away to the most important innovations. You will see how innovative bioscience tools are offering new perspectives – as an alternative to fossil raw materials – for new uses in industry and for entirely new products and markets. You will see how the bioeconomy is "lived" and seen in North and South America, in Africa, Asia and Europe. Our views on the bioeconomy and how it should be shaped may differ but we all share a common goal – the goal of the transition to a sustainable, biobased economy which will ensure that our world remains livable for future generations.