Sustainable and circular bioeconomy for food systems transformation

Leveraging bioeconomy to build back biodiversity


Many entry points in Kunming-Montreal Global Biodiversity Framework

A few months on from the COP 15 biodiversity conference that led to agreement on the Kunming-Montreal Global Biodiversity Framework (GBF), it’s time for a recap. The new framework, which replaces the previous Aichi Biodiversity Targets, has four overarching goals and 23 targets to achieve mostly by 2050. There are also shorter term goals: by 2030, the GBF aims to protect 30 percent of the planet’s lands, oceans, coastal areas and inland waters; reduce annual harmful government subsidies by USD 500 billion; cut food waste by half; and mobilize USD 200 billion annually for domestic and international biodiversity funding.

FAO played an active role on the ground during COP 15, including co-hosting an event with Canada on “Achieving post-2020 targets through sustainable bioeconomy in agrifood systems”. FAO sees bioeconomy as a biodiversity enabler, with many entry points linked to GBF goals and targets. But it’s not just FAO that sees the potential in this regard: other COP 15 events included “Building a sustainable bio-economy through biodiversity-based research and innovation“ and “Bioeconomy and Green&Blue Economy - tools to implement the GBF”. Further, the LVMH fashion group used the biodiversity conference to announce its support to two bioeconomy projects to build up sustainable fashion value chains in the Amazon and in Chad, through the Circular Bioeconomy Alliance.

Below is a brief (non-exhaustive) outline of how bioeconomy can contribute to GBF goals and specific targets.

Bioeconomy GBF entry points


Goal A (Restoring ecosystems and safeguarding genetic diversity): This is supported by bioeconomy practices such as afforestation and reforestation; and innovations linked to microbiomes, which are microbial environments that perform essential functions for soils, crops, animals, forests, humans and their related ecosystems.

Goal B (Sustainably using natural resources and ensuring benefits for people): Bioeconomy promotes the sustainable use of biological resources – almost all bioeconomy strategies envisage actions for the conservation and/or sustainable use of biodiversity. As do the Aspirational principles and criteria for a sustainable bioeconomy, produced by the FAO-led International Sustainable Bioeconomy Working Group, which state under principle 2 that "sustainable bioeconomy should ensure that natural resources are conserved, protected and enhanced, such that under criterion 2.1 biodiversity conservation is ensured".

Goal C (Benefits sharing and protecting local and indigenous knowledge and resources): The principles of benefits sharing and protecting local and indigenous knowledge are enshrined within many national and regional bioeconomy strategies (e.g. Canada, Costa Rica, Colombia, East Africa, South Africa) and are one of the priority discussion areas in FAO’s programme on bioeconomy for sustainable food and agriculture.

Goal D (Financing, capacity building, knowledge transfer, equitable treatment): National and regional bioeconomy strategies contain provisions and mechanisms for the implementation of international conventions and protocols, including the Convention on Biological Diversity and its two protocols (Cartagena, Nagoya). Country-level financing for bioeconomy projects can be leveraged through mechanisms such as the Global Environment Facility, which was enhanced with a special trust fund for GBF implementation as an outcome of COP 15.


Target 2 (Protecting 30 percent of the planet’s lands, oceans, coastal areas and inland waters): Reducing chemical use and pollution in agriculture through responsible consumption and production (priorities of FAO’s bioeconomy programme) support this target, while bioremediation can help restore degraded terrestrial and aquatic ecosystems.

Target 4 (Employing in situ and ex situ conservation and sustainable management practices): The bioeconomy harnesses traditional and indigenous knowledge, combined with the latest advances in biosciences and innovation, including multiomics, data and DNA sequencing, to enhance biodiversity knowledge and in situ and ex situ conservation.

Target 7 (Reducing pollution and agrichemicals): Bioeconomy products or practices (such as biofertilizers, biopesticides, integrated pest management, bioremediation or microbiome innovations) can help reduce soil and water pollution and health risks by decreasing use of chemical fertilizers and pesticides, which are identified among major causes of biodiversity loss. Alternatives to plastic use – e.g. using cover crops instead of plastic mulches – or use of bio-based plastics can reduce pollution stemming from petroleum-based plastics.

Target 8 (Minimizing the impacts of climate change): The bioeconomy offers opportunities to reduce greenhouse gas emissions across all sectors by replacing fossil-based resources and processes with biological ones. FAO produced a booklet for the COP 27 climate change conference detailing many examples and case studies of bioeconomy practices that could help deliver Paris Agreement goals with biodiversity co-benefits.

Target 9 (Ensuring socio-economic and environmental benefits for local communities and indigenous peoples): Bioeconomy supports the development of local value chains in sustainable biological resources that can empower local and indigenous communities with diversified income opportunities; e.g. a recent FAO bioeconomy project on extracting value from rice straw residues in India.

Target 10 (Ensuring sustainable management of terrestrial and aquatic agricultural resources): FAO’s bioeconomy for sustainable food and agriculture programme is specifically designed to harness biological resources and biological diversity in an equitable manner, and improve environmental outcomes of agriculture, aquaculture, fisheries and forestry, and related sectors.

Target 13 (Ensuring access and sharing benefits to genetic resources): Sustainable and circular bioeconomy supports the sharing of benefits arising from the sustainable use and conservation of biodiversity and related traditional knowledge (e.g. marula in Namibia). It also underlines the importance of bioprospecting regulations and biosafety. FAO is well positioned to support its Members on access and sharing of benefits arising from the utilization of genetic resources, including digital sequence information and traditional knowledge. As highlighted in the brief on bioeconomy in the biodiversity agenda, more than half of existing bioeconomy strategies harness bioscience, biotechnology and bioinformatics innovations to help collect, handle, store and supply biological materials, including genetic resources. Almost half of the strategies also highlight that the knowledge and benefits arising from biodiversity management should be equitably shared and accessible to everyone.

Target 14 (Integrating biodiversity into policies, strategies and regulations): FAO’s “Towards Sustainable Bioeconomy Guidelines” project has produced a number of knowledge products outlining how to design and implement sustainable bioeconomy policies and strategies that support biodiversity, including the Aspirational principles and criteria for a sustainable bioeconomy. A good country example is FAO support to Namibia in drafting its national bioeconomy strategy, which is designed to operate in synergy with the Namibian National Biodiversity Strategy and Action Plan (NBSAP).

Target 16 (Ensuring responsible consumption and production and halving global food waste): A sustainable and circular bioeconomy promotes bioprocesses and circular value chains that allow for sustainable production patterns that produce more with fewer resources and turn waste into valuable by-products – e.g. compostable bio-based plastics using agricultural residues or food waste. FAO’s programme on bioeconomy for sustainable food and agriculture has a focus on Sustainable Development Goal 12 (Responsible Consumption and Production), targeting food and biomass waste reduction and valorization of organic waste streams.

International Day for Biological Diversity is celebrated each year on 22 May. The theme for 2023 is “From Agreement to Action: Build Back Biodiversity”.

Publication: Sustainable and circular bioeconomy in the biodiversity agenda: Opportunities to conserve and restore biodiversity in agrifood systems through bioeconomy practices

Article: FAO at COP15: Achieving post-2020 targets through sustainable bioeconomy in agrifood systems

Web: Sustainable and circular bioeconomy