An interview with Chris Patermann. “We do not lose out of sight that we all live on the same planet”

Chris Patermann at the first edition of the Bioeconomy Investment Summit, Brussels, 9-10 November 2015

“It will be very relevant that in spite of these upcoming challenges by the pandemic in its aftermath we do not lose out of sight that we all live on the same planet, or better said with respect to the bioeconomy in the same biosphere, and finally that we have to survive jointly. Never before the slogan “Think global, and act local” had more value than today”. Chris Patermann, the man who is considered in Europe as the “father” of the bioeconomy, talks to Il Bioeconomista. In this long exclusive interviene, the former Director at the EU Commission talks about the Global Bioeconomy Summit, which was held in Berlin last November, and the bioeconomy after the pandemic.

Interview by Mario Bonaccorso

Last November the Global Bioeconomy Summit was celebrated in Berlin, in digital version due to covid19. How does the pandemic change the development perspective for the circular bioeconomy, as far as you’re concerned?

From my personal point of view the circular bioeconomy will have to cope much stronger than before with following items: 1. Health and Biomedicine, which was originally clearly within the remits of the bioeconomy agenda, when started in 2005 and then also was kept in OECD, the German Cologne paper, under its EU presidency 2007, the US Blueprint, the bioeconomy strategies of the UK, Ireland, South Africa, Japan, Thailand, Costa Rica etc. and which must now return. 2. Stronger emphasis on animals as biological ressources, including combatting zoonotic and epizootic diseases, again what was the case 12 years ago and got a little lost. 3. Including the One-Health Initiative of the WHO into a global Bioeconomy Agenda, which also got lost during the last decade. 4. Identify Corona-oriented new value chains with particular respect to Health and Safety issues, also in daily care products with all their consequences for usabilty, bio-degradibility and recylability. 5. More attention to develop as enabling technologies withn life-sciences so-called low-cost technologies, as money for RTDI might become a scarcer good in the future.

What are the main reflections that emerged from the Summit?

First some facts: more than 3000 participants attended the plenary days on the 19th and 20th of November in Berlin, about 1000 attended the preceeding workshops in the days before on all continents, carried through with the help of strategic partners of the main organizator, the  International Advisory Committee (IAC),  sponsored by the Federal German government solely now for the 3rd time in a row. These strategic partners like the EU, Japan, South-East Asian Union, East African Union, Latin America and Caribe (LAC) were a novelty, and this new concept really paid off, enriching the Summit immensely. The summit again published a new Global Bioeconomy Policy Report on the most recent developments of policies and strategies worldwide during the last years, issued an Expert Survey on Governance in the bioeconomy and released a comprehensive Communique plus vision paper on the future development of the Bioeconomy in the world. 

I will not repeat the results which everybody can read, but only make a few personal remarks: There is no comparable worldwide event within the bioeconomy offering a unique combination of Think Tank and information platform than the Global bioeconomy Summit, which makes reading and studying of its results a must. And these results show an unbroken momentum, an enormous thematic dynamism, a growing diversity of topics, goals, measures, but also expectations of and on the Bioeconomy we must be careful still be able to follow and to fulfil. This is the big challenge, as with this diversity, thematic specialisation and priorisation all over the world goes hand in hand a growing complexity which will make it not easier to implement dedicated bioeconomy policies and strategies. Therefore the Summit strongly focused on the need of practical implementaion and action plans, not just the existence of strategies and stressed also the need of the accountibility of any new strategies to be worked out. But the Summit also welcomed a growing number of such practical action plans being worked out!

And what are the next steps?

The next steps will be consolidation of topics, themes, goals and priorities, and institutionalisation of the mechanisms, preparing and organizing though these Global Summits in a timeframe of 2-3 years in the past: as one can hardly expect the German government to continue with its ongoing support of the last years.

Today a great expectation for a green recovery of Europe is attributed to the Green New Deal. However, the concept of bioeconomy is almost entirely absent. What do you think about this?

The Bioeconomy as a concept offers a fascinating and unique capital of potentials other economic systems and formats do not have: best experiences and practises using systemic or holistic approaches for problem-solving, excellent capabilities to think, to operate, to act in cycles and chains, offering renewability and the knowledge about it as a scientific tool for resources efficiency, mitigation of GHG, coping with global climate changes and also as a strong innovation factor, to name a few elements of this treasure of bio. I am surprised that until now these advantages or potentials of a sustainable circular bioeconomy is only rarely discussed, like for example in California, in the Japanese strategy, very recent studies of the Nordic Union or at the publication of the Bavarian Bioeconomy strategy lately. This the Summit has very clearly demonstrated, in particular in the contributions of the many Latin american participants in their emerging strategies of Ecuador, Uruguay and Colombia as well as already in Costa Rica. But this capital must now be made known, and I am sure it will be, as first signs in thre EU also show.

There is big debate in Europe regarding a great opportunity not to be wasted. What is needed globally to fully implement a decarbonisation strategy?

First we should make clear what decarbonisation is all about, and that this must be differentiated. So chemistry as such without carbon is simply not thinkable, but must be clearly spelled out in its remits, obstacles and potentials. In this respect I fully agree with a rather recent Initiative of the Nova-Institute in Cologne on Renewable Carbon which clarifies, contributes to a better understanding and shows clearly the wide range of relevance of Carbon for our life, our economic systems and in relation to the biobased economies globally.

The world will never be the same after the pandemic. How can we make it more sustainable and inclusive, from your point of view?

You are right, but we must be realistic: I fear that from 2021 onwards we will cope at first with repairing the worst damages by the pandemic to our planet, seeing growing hunger and poverty, not necessarily in Europe and the USA, but in many many parts of the world. And we will face growing nationalism with all its consequences for international cooperation, free flow of goods and services, exchange of ideas, with repect to global supply and value chains. We will face the need to find the right balance between the repatriation of parts of these global value chains to local and regional ones, looking on the issue of resilience in Health, Security and Safety, just to name a few ones. Bioeconomies in their diversity can become models for finding this balance, as that is their bread and butter job. It will be very relevant that in spite of these upcoming challenges by the pandemic in its aftermath we do not lose out of sight that we all live on the same planet, or better said with respect to the bioeconomy in the same biosphere, and finally that we have to survive jointly. Never before the slogan “Think global, and act local” had more value than today.

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