Bioeconomy leaders met in São Paolo for the Biofuture Summit

São Paolo, Brazil

“We simply have no choice. We have to massively scale up bioenergy, and do it fast”, said Paolo Frankl, Head of the Renewable Energy Division at the International Energy Agency (IEA). “Sustainable bioenergy is an indispensable component of the necessary portfolio of low-carbon technologies in ALL climate-change mitigation scenarios”, said Frankl, based on the findings of a key upcoming report on the matter. “And there is a major, major gap between what we need and what is happening today in terms of the speed of deployment and the scale of investments in bioenergy”.

 The declarations were made as part of the Biofuture Summit, the first major conference of the Biofuture Platform, a coalition of twenty country governments, industry and the research community launched in November 2016 during UNFCCC COP23 in Marrakesh, aimed at the development of a modern, sustainable, low-carbon bioeconomy.

The two-day Summit was held in São Paulo, Brazil, October 24 and 25, with more than 270 delegates from 28 countries coming together to discuss the best ways to face a relevant challenge for the future of humanity: creating a large-scale, sustainable, low-carbon bioeconomy. It was held in partnership with below50, a corporate coalition supported by the World Business Council for Sustainable Development (WBCSD) aiming to promote low carbon fuels.

According to projections of international energy agencies, the use of bioenergy as a share of the world’s energy usage needs to more than double by 2030 if the world is to avoid temperature rises above 2º C.
Government policy-makers from Brazil, Canada, Finland, India, Italy, UK, the USA, and others openly debated their respective current and future polices and programmes for bioenergy and the bioeconomy, including California’s LCFS, Brazil’s upcoming RenovaBio, Canada’s Clean Fuel Standard, the US’s 1 Billion Ton Bioeconomy Vision and more. The bioeconomy, as defined by the Biofuture participants, is the use of biomass using technology to produce energy, materials and chemicals, as a sustainable, low carbon alternative to fossil based energy and products.

For their part, industry members highlighted key advances in conversion technologies and agricultural revolutions, such as the high-density energy-cane, waste and biomethane usage, cellulosic conversion, and many others. “Technology risk is no longer the main challenge as it was a few years ago, but access to capital resources”, said Bernardo Gradin, CEO of GranBio, a company responsible for one of five first-in-class, commercial scale second generation ethanol plants in the world.

“Human psicology tends to oversimplify things in dicotomies like ‘food versus fuel’ or ‘eletric vehicles versus biofuels’, while any serious analysis taking in consideration the trends, projections, and use cases will expose those dicotomies as false”, says Aloysio Nunes Ferreira, Brazil’s Minister for Foreign Affairs, hosting the summit. “It’s proven that we need electric vehicles, and at the same time a quick deployment of biofuels in the existing vehicle fleet and infrastructure if the world is to meet its climate goals. It’s also proven that with the right combination of policies, technology and regulation, we can produce more food AND more energy, all the while reducing deforestation”, said Nunes.

“Renewable bioenergy solutions to transport are key: as inputs to power for electric vehicles, as biofuels for light vehicles as EVs phase in, and as biofuels for aviation, marine and freight in the long term”, agreed Sakari Oksanen, Deputy Director General of the International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA).

”Having little land to spare and many people to feed, India is betting high on second-generation technologies and the use of residues to scale up its bioeconomy using rice and maize straw and other feedstocks”, said Y.B. Ramakrishna, Chairman of the Working Group on BioFuels of India’s Ministry of Petroleum & Natural Gas. “The goal in India is to quickly achieve 10% bio-ethanol blending in petrol and 5% bio-diesel blending in diesel by 2022. Indian oil companies are to to set up twelve second generation plants across 11 states of the country.”

There was a clear, emerging consensus among the many views expressed by the 47 speakers and the public of policy makers around a few key messages:

a. bioenergy needs to be urgently scaled up, along with an expanded bioeconomy for advanced bioproducts and biomaterials, in order to fight climate change;
b. there is ample feedstock potential to be sustainably tapped through smart agricultural practices, intensification of livestock, 2nd generation and other advanced biofuels; high-density energy crops, and using rural and urban waste;
c. besides the climate advantages, the bioeconomy offers huge opportunities for job creation, sustainable development, technological innovation, agriculture intensification and energy security;
d. Bold, smart policies and stable frameworks will be needed to level the playing field and overcome the huge challenges facing the sector, including lack of investments, policy uncertainty, low oil prices, lack of capital for early stage technologies, fossil fuel subsidies and lack the of a comprehensive sustainability framework.
The Summit’s deliberations fed into the Biofuture Vision Statement, a document to be officially endorsed by Ministers and high-level representatives of the 20 Member Countries of the Biofuture Platform in November 16, at the 23rd Conference of the Parties of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC COP23), which takes place from 6 to 17 November in Bonn, in Germany. Among the purposes of the Vision Statement is helping elevate the sustainable low carbon bioeconomy in the global agenda as an urgent solution to combat climate change, and providing a strong signal to markets and investors about the large expected role for the sector in the next decades.

“The Biofuture Platform is a key part of a much needed effort to put back bioenergy in the global agenda”, said Rasmus Valanko, Climate and Energy Director of the World Business Council for Sustainable Development (WBCSD). “It is a mechanism where governments, private sector and academia are able to very dynamically cooperate”.

Launched by initiative of the government of Brazil, which now serves as its interim Secretariat, the Biofuture Platform has as its Member States Argentina, Brazil, Canada, China, Denmark, Egypt, Finland, France, India, Indonesia, Italy, Morocco, Mozambique, Paraguay, the Philippines, Sweden, the United Kingdom, the United States and Uruguay. The Platform aims to facilitate political dialogue and collaboration among leading countries, organizations, academia and the private sector, aware of the need to accelerate development and expand the deployment of sustainable low carbon alternatives solutions to fossil fuels in transport, chemicals, plastics and other sectors. The government of Brazil, through its Ministry of Foreign Affairs, currently acts as facilitator of the initiative.

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