Research project creates new fundamentals for an evaluation of the German bioeconomy

24/17 – March 22, 2017

Scientists examine in a nationwide project how severe the environment is influenced by the so-called bioeconomy. The objective is an assessment of the ecological and socio-ecological impacts of the bioeconomy in Germany.

The term “bioeconomy” refers to the sectors of the economy which produces, processes, consumes and recycles biogenic products: from agriculture, forestry and fishery over food production, renewable resources, the usage of biotechnological methods or furniture production to waste management and the generation of bioenergy.  The project SYMOBIO (Systemic Monitoring and Modelling of the Bioeconomy) examines the national and international production for the German market.

Different teams of researchers investigate the environmental impacts of products made from biomass, like biofuels or food like margarine. Within the scope of the project, the whole production chain from agricultural land-use to production, processing, product usage as well as waste management is assessed. The main objective is collecting data of the total resource use of the biobased economy sectors as well as in the whole economy, linked with its impact on environment and climate, rather than the evaluation of single products.

The researcher consortium comprises eight different institutes and companies coordinated by Prof. Dr. Stefan Bringezu - Professor for Sustainable Resource Management and Director at the Center for Environmental Systems Research (CESR) of the University of Kassel. Bringezu: “A simple energy transition, through the reduction of greenhouse gases (GHG), is not enough in order to have a sustainable economy and preserve the environment. What we need is a resource transition - meaning we have to economize ecologically and decrease the amount of used resources. For this purpose, we need higher detailed information about the consequences of our economic activity and the normative constraints.” For example, one objective of SYMOBIO is to clarify to what extent the increasing usage of agricultural raw materials, which has a direct impact on the land use change in tropical regions, is in agreement with the UN Convention goal to preserve biodiversity. A further objective is to answer how much agricultural land Germany is using for final consumption of products and to assess its linked impact on the environment.

In addition, the project assesses the water usage of German imports in relation to the water availability in the different countries of origin. Considering the increasing demand of wood, the final consumption of timber based products is compared to the possible amount that can be harvested sustainably. On this basis, different models for a systemic monitoring are derived applicable in economy and politics. “We want to regain an overview of the bio-economy by assessing the whole system instead of single products”, says Bringezu.

Using the example of biodiesel, Bringezu explains: “Biofuels are subsidized because of their product life cycle analysis but this calculation does not show the whole picture.” Especially the exploitation of newly prepared cultivation sites have to be taken into account. “Indonesia, for example, uses peat soils to cultivate palm trees for the production of biodiesel. During the drainage process, the former wet conserved plant parts fall dry and oxidize, which emits CO2.” Consequently, biodiesel from palm oil may have an up to 20 times higher GHG emission rate than conventional diesel. In fact, the currently existing certification procedures for products like imported biodiesel exclude the share directly produced on peat soils. However, the indirect usage affected by the constant growth of biobased products is not affected. “Not everything which is classified as “bio” has a positive environmental impact. In many cases a shift of problems can be observed,” reminds Bringezu.

SYMOBIO is funded by the German Federal Ministry of Education and Research (BMBF) and has a total budget of 3.0 million €, with a share of 1.13 million € provided for the University of Kassel. The project has a duration of 36 month and ends in February 2020.

Project Members:

Universität Kassel, Center for Environmental Systems Research (CESR)
Universität Kassel FB 11 Ökologische Agrarwissenschaften
Helmholtz Zentrum für Umweltforschung GmbH (UFZ),
Deutsches Biomasseforschungszentrum (DBFZ),
Gesellschaft für wirtschaftliche Strukturforschung mbH (GWS),
Öko- Institut e.V.,
INFRO Informationssysteme für Rohstoffe,
MEO Carbon Solutions GmbH,
IFEU – Institut für Energie und Umwelt,

Contact details:
Prof. Dr. Stefan Bringezu
University of Kassel
Center for Environmental Systems Research (CESR)
Tel. +49 (0) 561 804 6115


The most comprehensive assessment of the world’s 286 transboundary river basins identifies hotspots at risk from a variety of issues, with risks in some regions projected to increase

Press Release

The world’s 286 transboundary river basins span 151 countries, including more than 40% of the Earth’s population and land area. They support the socioeconomic development and wellbeing of humanity and are home to a high proportion of the world’s biodiversity. Transboundary river basins cross international borders and are shared by two or more countries, which often makes managing them more challenging.

The Transboundary Waters Assessment Programme (TWAP) was initiated by the Global Environment Facility (GEF) to create a baseline assessment of all the transboundary water resources on Earth. The programme, coordinated by UNEP, consists of five transboundary water systems components, which are:
(i) Groundwater,
(ii) Lake Basins,
(iii) River Basins,
(iv) Large Marine Ecosystems (LMEs), and
(v) Open Ocean.

The UNEP-DHI Partnership, in collaboration with 8 internationally recognized organizations and research institutes, leads the transboundary river basins assessment*. The assessment is the first of its kind in scope and ambition.

A selection of key findings and recommendations include:

  1. The threat to freshwater biodiversity is global. Extinction risks are moderate to very high in 70% of the area of transboundary river basins. However, local-level, tailored solutions are needed to address risks of species extinction.
  2. The construction of dams and water diversions is in progress or planned in many transboundary river basins, often without adequate international water cooperation instruments. While many transboundary agreements exist, more effort is needed to update them to reflect modern principles of transboundary water management. This includes the obligation to not cause significant harm to the river and the areas surrounding it, and the commitment to principles of cooperation and information exchange.
  3. Risks are projected to increase in the next 15-30 years, particularly in four hotspot regions: the Middle East, Central Asia, the Ganges-Brahmaputra-Meghna basin, and the Orange and Limpopo basins in Southern Africa. Action should be taken now to reduce future impacts and subsequent costs.

To set the 2010 baseline, we have used 15 core indicators in the assessment, covering water quantity, water quality, ecosystems, governance and socioeconomics. Five of these indicators are projected to 2030 and 2050. The assessment also covers risks in 26 deltas.

The assessment serves a number of purposes. This includes identification of river basins at risk from a variety of issues, encouraging knowledge exchange and increasing awareness of the importance of the transboundary waters and their current state.

The final report, interactive results portal and other associated products are to be launched at the GEF International Waters Conference (IWC-8) May 9-13, Sri Lanka, at the second session of the United Nations Environmental Assembly (UNEA-2), May 23-27, Kenya, and at other events during 2016 (TBC). This marks the culmination of a six-year process to produce a baseline assessment of the river basins. We hope that the assessment will be periodically repeated to track the impacts of interventions over time.

More information on transboundary river basins can be found at The website also includes links to the following resources:

  1. Final Technical Report
  2. Summary for Policy Makers
  3. Interactive Results Portal with global maps of assessment results and indicator metadata sheets

All assessment results, analyses and supplementary datasets can be freely downloaded.

* Partners:

  • Center for Environmental Systems Research (CESR), University of Kassel, Germany;
  • Center for International Earth Science Information Network (CIESIN), Columbia University, USA;
  • City University of New York (CUNY), Environmental CrossRoads Initiative, USA;
  • Delta Alliance (primarily Alterra Wageningen and Deltares)
  • International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN);
  • International Geosphere-Biosphere Program (IGBP);
  • Oregon State University (OSU), USA;
  • Stockholm International Water Institute (SIWI), Sweden; and
  • UNEP-DHI Partnership: Centre on Water and Environment.

Supporting partners:

  • Australian Rivers Institute, Griffith University, Australia.
  • Centro de Estudios Avanzados en Zonas Aridas
  • University of Washington, USA
  • Wageningen UR

Each partner contributed their expertise, datasets, models and assessment tools to undertake this extensive global assessment.