Bioeconomy strategies in high income societies focus at replacing finite, fossil resources by renewable, biological resources to reconcile macro-economic concerns with climate constraints. However, the current bioeconomy is associated with critical levels of environmental degradation. As a potential increase in biological resource use may further threaten the capacity of ecosystems to fulfil human needs, it remains unclear whether bioeconomy transitions in high income countries are sustainable. In order to fill a gap in bioeconomy sustainability assessments, we apply an ontological lens of coupled social-ecological systems to explore critical mechanisms in relation to bioeconomy activities in the global resource system. This contributes to a social-ecological systems (SES)-based understanding of sustainability from a high income country perspective: the capacity of humans to satisfy their needs with strategies that reduce current levels of pressures and impacts on ecosystems. Building on this notion of agency, we develop a framework prototype that captures the systemic relation between individual human needs and collective social outcomes on the one hand (micro-level) and social-ecological impacts in the global resource system on the other hand (macro-level). The BIO-SES framework emphasizes the role of responsible consumption (for physical health), responsible production (to reduce stressors on the environment), and the role of autonomy and self-organisation (to protect the reproduction capacity of social-ecological systems). In particular, the BIO-SES framework can support (1) individual and collective agency in high income country contexts to reduce global resource use and related ecosystem impacts with a bioeconomy strategy, (2) aligning social outcomes, monitoring efforts and governance structures with place-based efforts to achieve the SDGs, as well as (3), advancing the evidence base and social-ecological theory on responsible bioeconomy transitions in the limited biosphere.
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