Paradoxically, societies need to change in order to sustain certain qualities. Mitigating negative consequences of climate change and resource depletion requires us to drastically change the way we use natural resources. This involves a transformation from a linear economy based on fossil fuels to a circular economy based on renewables.
This transformation to a low-carbon circular economy affects people and resources in two ways: as citizens and consumers and as workers and producers. Demographic changes, for example due to ageing, migration, or income, shape the needs for housing, transport, and food. Understanding changes in population composition and the related human needs is essential for exploring new ways to satisfy these needs. By changing resource flows, many jobs become obsolete (for example the ones connected to fossil fuels), while new jobs are created (for example in the Bioeconomy). Depending on their education and skills, people losing their jobs constitute human resources that are potentially available for “reuse” (new jobs without need for further education or training) or “recycling” (with further education): The transition to a circular economy of natural resources depends on a circular economy of human resources.
The use of natural resources and the change in population are studied in industrial ecology and in demography, however, the two fields have evolved rather independently. BALANCE develops a framework for integrating them, using case studies for buildings and the Bioeconomy in Norway. The objective is to facilitate the transition to a circular Bioeconomy through a strategic decision tool that enables policy makers, businesses, and civil society to coordinate actions for balancing employment, climate change mitigation, and resource use. It establishes a new line of sustainability research that addresses both a better understanding of human needs and the means to satisfy them with limited resources.
BALANCE will create a strategic tool that can guide decision makers as they attempt to grow the Norwegian bioeconomy and increase circular rather than linear flows of resources. The project’s research findings will generate a comprehensive understanding of the interlinkages between natural and human resources systems as well as the economic system in key sectors that drive production and consumption patterns. These sectors include aquaculture, forestry and agriculture.
BALANCE empirically assesses and maps interactions between natural resources use and human populations by innovatively integrating a socioeconomic metabolism model with a demographic metabolism model. The former deals with the dynamics of natural resources while the latter deals with population dynamics driving production and consumption. These maps and models, combined with an analysis of policies and framework conditions, will be developed and used in a transdisciplinary learning process involving different user groups. The result will be an identification of alternative pathways towards a circular bioeconomy.
Norway’s Bioeconomy Strategy has three overarching objectives: value creation and employment, climate change mitigation, and resource efficiency. However, it is unclear how and to what extent these objectives can be reached under alternative scenarios, because different interventions interact, either supporting or hindering each other. The strategic tools developed in BALANCE will enable stakeholders to identify and to quantitatively evaluate alternative pathways to a circular bioeconomy and to make better informed and coordinated decisions necessary to balance these objectives.
The integration of socioeconomic and demographic metabolism has a high potential to generate a new line of sustainability research that addresses both a better understanding of human needs and the means to satisfy them with limited resources.