NGOs and the biobased economy

In 2009, Dutch IMI institute interviewed eleven NGOs on their stand on the biobased economy, on behalf of the ministry’s Interdepartmental Program for the Biobased Economy. All NGOs are prepared to enter into a dialogue and welcome new policy developments.

These NGO’s were:
• Natuurmonumenten
• Stichting Natuur en Milieu
• Milieudefensie (Friends of the Earth)
• Oxfam Novib
• Bureau Advies voor Duurzaamheid
• Both ENDS
• World Wildlife Fund
• Solidaridad
• Institute for Environmental Development IIED, UK
We shortly review IMI’s findings.

All interviewed organizations judge the time to be ripe to realize the biobased economy. There is a need to change the fossil-based economy to a biobased economy. In short, they take a generally positive view on the biobased economy. But they differ in their judgment on the desired speed, and notably on matters concerning governance and sustainability in this transition.

For all NGOs, sustainability is a hard boundary condition. Many NGOs take part in Round Tables on relevant issues like soy and palm oil. They make a case for a sustainable and integral approach to the biobased economy, e.g. by closing relevant loops (water, nutrients). NGOs are concerned about food production and the possibility that the biobased economy might distort world food markets. They basically support the value pyramid (even though they do not always frame their opinions in these terms), and the cradle-to-cradle principle. Some are very concerned about the lack of attention for biodiversity.

Some organizations take the view that scientific excellence may produce new economic opportunities. They call for a real systems change, because they judge present production chains unfit to produce the required sustainable transition. They also perceive opportunities for developing countries, both in large scale and small scale production, e.g. in small farmers’ coproductions. Although they do not agree on the potential for biofuels, they all take the view that first generation biofuels (from maize or rapeseed) should be replaced by second or third generation biofuels. A threat would be that bad governance in phasing out the first generation might cause a slowdown in the development of the biobased economy, which would result in a continuation of the fossil-based economy. This would be the worst of both worlds: a lose-lose situation.

Government should not merely think top-down, but to a large extent bottom-up, too, as the stimulator of local and rural development. NGOs suggest several roles for Dutch central government: stimulate development of European sustainability criteria, stimulate market innovations instead of just technology, and use its own procurement power to stimulate sustainability. NGOs are concerned that lack of cooperation and coordination might stand in the way of effective policy making. But finally: interviews show that NGOs have an open mind on the subject and welcome new policy developments.

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