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For the past two centuries, the world has relied on a linear fossil fuel economy in which raw materials are turned into products, used and then discarded. But today, the climate, biodiversity, land degradation and global health crises call for a fundamental transformation of production and consumption patterns. The circular bioeconomy, based on renewable materials and sustainable management of landscapes, is rapidly emerging as an alternative to ensure human well-being within the limits of the planet.
On March 19, the European Forest Institute (EFI), the recently merged Center for International Forestry Research and Global Agroforestry (CIFOR-ICRAF) and its partners will hold the first global forest bioeconomy conference with a focus on the countries of the South. The virtual event, scheduled ahead of this year’s UN climate and biodiversity discussions, will explore the benefits of using wood and other bio-based solutions over fossil and non-renewable products, and explore the ways to deploy the latest innovations and technologies across the forest-rich countries around the world.
Before the event, Landscape news spoke with EFI Director Marc PalahÃ about the need to transform the current business model, the role forests can play in a zero waste and climate neutral future, and what it will take to move on to a more sustainable system over the next decade.
How can forests fuel the transition to a more sustainable economic model?
The world needs a new economic system powered by nature and recognizing natural capital as its most important asset. Sustainably managed forests have a key role to play: They are the greatest source of renewable non-food and non-food biological resources that we can use to replace fossil-based materials such as plastics, steel and carbon. concrete. Some examples are wood-based textiles and building materials.
To what extent is it possible to use the renewable resources of forests while protecting biodiversity and the vital ecosystem services it provides?
We need to break the false dichotomy between conservation and production. With the exception of primary forests, which must remain so, it is quite possible to create landscapes that are both resilient and productive. We can use forest resources to get out of fossil systems, then reinvest in biodiversity and healthy ecosystems, which are the very foundation of the circular bioeconomy. Take Europe: since the 1960s, there has been an increase in logging, but also in carbon storage and protected areas.
The world’s leading forest research institutions are joining forces to organize the world’s premier forest bioeconomy event. What is the goal ?
Europe has been spearheading the development of the concept of circular bioeconomy and has created cutting-edge technologies to implement it. But to be successful, we must mobilize all regions, especially Africa, Southeast Asia and South America, which in the decades to come may face increasing negative climate impacts, to water scarcity and food insecurity in a context of rapid urbanization and population growth. The event is part of a larger effort to improve understanding of the bioeconomy, foster its global expansion, and highlight the extraordinary role forests can play in creating a new economic paradigm.
What will it take to accelerate the development of a circular bioeconomy?
It will take innovation, investment, policies and infrastructure, as well as communication and education. Innovation is about turning new technologies into products and connecting them to markets. To make this possible, we must reorient the massive flows of investment, especially from private sources, and create an adequate political environment. For example, through carbon taxes and procurement mechanisms that stimulate markets for bio-based solutions. France, for example, recently passed a law mandating the use of wood or other biobased materials in new public buildings.
What about infrastructure and communication?
We must prioritize green infrastructure over gray and massively replace oil refineries with alternatives that use sustainable biological resources. Communication and education also have an important role to play as society as a whole needs to understand and support the transition. As citizens and consumers, individuals can put pressure on decision-makers and brands. For example, consumer concerns about microplastics lost from polyester clothing is prompting producers to explore wood as an alternative material for textile production.
How confident are you that the world can transition to more sustainable economic systems over the next decade to avoid the worst impacts of climate change and biodiversity loss?
The transition is possible if we start working now and if everyone takes decisive action, from policy makers and investors to the private sector and consumers. Otherwise, the crises we face will only get worse. The basic knowledge and technological solutions we need to effect the necessary change exist, but moving forward we must begin to value natural capital as the foundation of a new and resilient economic system.