Biotech enabling Europe to reach UN SDGs

The UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) provide a powerful blueprint for coordinating global efforts to end poverty through economic growth, reducing inequality, and providing better education, health, job opportunities, and environmental protection.

The OECD defines biotechnology as “the application of scientific and engineering principles to the processing of materials by biological agents.” More simply, it is the application of biology for the benefit of humanity and the environment. As such, sustainability is inherent in biotechnology. This makes biotechnology an innately sustainable approach when looking at addressing many of the Sustainable Development Goals. Biotechnology is capable of tackling diseases through innovative medicines, improving energy and food security, and helping to mitigate climate change, while at the same time creating high-quality jobs and growth.

Only for the Climate Action goal, and by enabling smarter, more sustainable products and materials, the CO2 mitigation potential of industrial biotechnology is between 1–2.5 billion tonnes of CO2 equivalent per year by 2030, according to a 2011 OECD study. This potential is equivalent to emissions from 490 million cars, in addition to the 10 million cars equivalent emissions mitigated through agricultural biotechnology if we take into account data from PG Economics.

According to the International Service for the Acquisition of Agri-biotech Applications, agricultural biotechnology also contributes to goals around hunger and poverty by enabling farmers to grow more crops with fewer inputs, for example by making them resistant to certain pests.

Through innovative biologic medicines, healthcare biotechnology contributes to health-oriented Sustainable Development Goals by reducing the health and social burden of common diseases like cancers, cardiovascular diseases, diabetes, and chronic respiratory diseases, but also rare diseases, such as cystic fibrosis or spinal muscular atrophy. This in turn reduces the pressure on healthcare services and contributes to a healthier and more productive labour force, less hospitalisations, career interruptions, and work and school absenteeism.

The European Union itself has committed to implement the Sustainable Development Goals internally and externally. Given the contributions outlined above, biotech innovations must play a key role in Europe’s and the world’s response to the Sustainable Development Goals.

John Brennan is the Secretary General of EuropaBio. He has nearly 30 years’ experience in the healthcare sector, the last thirteen of which were spent in the policy environment in Brussels, both working at the European Commission and in European trade associations for the healthcare industry. Prior to that he worked in the Irish National Standards Authority. Born in Ireland, John is a science graduate from Dublin, with post-graduate studies in quality management and environmental engineering.

(First published in European Biotechnology, Winter Edition 2017)