“Transitioning towards a circular bioeconomy is a fundamental step. But new markets, products and sustainable value chains will need to be created.” To say it – in this exclusive interview with Il Bioeconomista – is Marc Palahí, director of EFI (European Forest Institute). He talks with us after his business trip to China.
Interview by Mario Bonaccorso
The circular bioeconomy is an increasingly widespread worldwide paradigm. You’ve been to China recently. What is the government of the Asian country doing to decarbonise and what opportunities do you see for Europe in that country?
The Bioeconomy is implicitly relevant in the context of China’s national ecological civilization reform masterplan and national commitments on implementing Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) by 2030.
China is by far the largest producing and consuming country on concrete, steel, coal, paper and paper board and fossil fuel based products like polyester fibre and plastic (PVC), but has set national goals to decrease CO2 emission per capita by 60-65% below 2005 level by 2030, and increase non-fossil energy to 20% by 2030 and 50% by 2050. To achieve such ambitious goals, China urgently needs know-how, technologies, and polices to decarbonize its economy. Transitioning towards a circular bioeconomy is a fundamental step. But new markets, products and sustainable value chains will need to be created. This provides enormous business opportunities for Europe bioeconomy sectors in the coming decades.
During the EU-China annual summits of the last recent years, green growth, low-carbon development and circular economy stayed on the top of the agenda. China and the EU signed a joint Memorandum of Understanding on Circular Economy Cooperation in July 2018. Next step should be to create strong synergies on the bioeconomy and build as well a common understanding on our most precious biological infrastructure, our forests, as well as on sustainable forest management, sustainable value chains and good forest governance.
What is the perception of bioeconomy by Chinese public opinion?
The Bioeconomy is a very new term in China for politicians, companies and even more for the general public. This is why we decided to organize a first ever event on the forest bioeconomy in Beijing in November, inviting public administration, companies and the academia together with European diplomats and other actors. However, I feel the concept is being understood very well and rather fast in the context of their concept of the ecological civilization.
How are the bioeconomy and forest-based economy today interconnected?
BIO, means life, the bioeconomy above all is about bringing life at the center of our economy. Forests do not only support life but they help life adapt to change. Our forests are the most important land biological infrastructure we have in our planet. They are the largest terrestrial carbon sink, main terrestrial source of precipitation and the main host for biodiversity we have in our planet. But our forests play another fundamental role too. Key for the bioeconomy. They are the most important source of non-food non-feed renewable biological resources. Resources that with emerging technologies can be transformed into a new range of bio-based solutions that can replace and environmentally outperform fossil-based and non-renewable products from industrial sectors like construction, textiles, transport or plastics. But to ensure an ambitious forest bioeconomy we also need to recognize that investing in biodiversity is a top priority in order to ensure the resilience of our forest resources to climate change. This is why our forests and the bioeconomy need to be interconnected through sustainable forestry to build a new and synergistic relationship between ecology and economy, bioeconomy and biodiversity. A new relationship that exemplifies how prosperity can take place within our planetary boundaries powered by nature.
What are EFI’s plans for 2020? With particular reference to the development of an urban circular bio-economy?
Many plans, some still not announced. But we will organize a high-level event in Bonn on the role of Forests in the Urbanocene in October. We are also planning in London a circular bioeconomy event to engage with key investors and place the topic at the investment agenda. We will also deliver important scientific findings on the forest bioeconomy in Europe, Russia and China.