An interview with Jukka Kantola, CEO NC Partnering

“The pandemic is still with us and it’s not over. I think it only reminds humankind to have more balance with nature. The signs of climate change are there for all to see, for instance more storms and drought. We have seen the damage just one virus has caused, there are millions of these in nature and they have been here much longer than human beings.” To say it – in this interview with Il Bioeconomista – is Jukka Kantola, CEO of NC Partnering and founder of the World Bioeconomy Forum.

Interview by Mario Bonaccorso

Mister Kantola, according to the Finnish government, Finland aims at achieving a low-carbon, energy-efficient society, founded on the use of renewable natural resources and recycled materials. For Finland the bioeconomy is one of the main pillars of the national sustainable development strategy. Do you think it is possible for the EU to follow the Finnish way?

As Finn I would hope. 

But seriously – I do not think that is possible, because there cannot be one fit all bioeconomy – each region has its own strengths and bioeconomies should build on those strengths. Also, continent level features and priorities are often different in comparison to country or regional levels. The bigger scale we are talking about bioeconomy one cannot weight too much on regional issues – these need to be done in regional and country level strategies. 

Do you have a system of Green Public Procurement to support the demand of bio-based products in Finland?

Not really. Actually, I do not recognize such preferential procurement programs in general in any other regions either, besides fuels. Personally, I’d like to see preferential policies applied for emerging bio-based products to foster development of the sector. 

Finland has excellent research centers and some of the major players in the European bioeconomy, such as UPM, Stora Enso, Metsä Group. Is it correct to say that having a strong pulp and paper industry takes away the problem of the supply of biomass?

It helps, but one needs to note that the field is broader than three major forest companies in Finland.  They surely play a key role, but besides them there are also good number of other forest industry companies, especially in the mechanical forest industry consisting of some 50 sawmills on industrial level. Supply chains with these are well integrated to making Finnish wood supply efficient. 

Sustainable use is the king. Despite growing use of wood, forests are growing more than ever (≈110 million m3) year, which means more carbon sequestration. Also, Finland already accounts for around half of the strictly protected forest areas of Europe. It total 10% of Finnish forests are protected. 

The need to more effectively communicate the benefits of the bioeconomy is on the agenda of the European Commission. How can we better communicate when it comes to the bioeconomy?

There are actually several ways, I will elaborate on two of them:

When setting strategies and any other measures it would be good to make an impact assessment analysis on effect the decisions would actually have. For example – a bold target in the Green Deal is to have carbon neutrality by 2050. If we now have a look at the strategies by which this target is to be achieved, it looks like a major tool is to set forests a side to serve as lungs of Europe. This is important and needed. It would also be quite simple to calculate what this means in terms of area – how big and area of forest land would be needed? You could even do this calculation yourself. 

What this calculation will reveal immediately is more forest land is needed in order to achieve carbon neutrality. I do not understand why substitution effects are totally forgotten from the Green Deal toolbox. When producing bio-based products fossil-based application are substituted. And always, whatever application, carbon will be either rot or burn and thus releases as carbon in the atmosphere. Measures to endorse renewable products are totally missing.

Another way to communicate do it is to make bio-based value chains more tangible. Ordinary consumers are mostly unaware of the source of their every-day products and their origin. For example, ordinary consumers do not know that some 70% of their clothing is based on fossil sources or that only few percentages of the plastics are based on renewable sources. So, we need to make value chains more explicit. Once the consumers and at the end of the day voters, know the traceability of their everyday products it will enhance demand of renewable and sustainable products. 

What changes do you expect for the bioeconomy after the pandemic?

The pandemic is still with us and it’s not over. I think it only reminds humankind to have more balance with nature. The signs of climate change are there for all to see, for instance more storms and drought.  We have seen the damage just one virus has caused, there are millions of these in nature and they have been here much longer than human beings.

From a socioeconomic point of view – even if it is sometimes painful to stay isolated – I think it reminds us about basic values. What is really important to us.  We need to give respect to nature. 

I would anticipate from the bioeconomy point of view there is more interest in bio-based pharma-applications and research for that sector will get enhanced. Another viewpoint – hopefully pandemic will escalate evolvement of value-added bio-based products in general – more materials, less burning. 

Belém in Brazil will host the 4th World Bioeconomy Forum on October 18-20. What are your expectations?

This will be fantastic opportunity to help us to make Brazil the hotspot of the global circular bioeconomy. We have great partners for the event, including the state of the Pará, the Brazilian Agribusiness Association (ABAG) and the Brazil Tree industry (Ibá) – so really the one with whom we can arrange successful Forum in Brazil. Already now it has attracted global interest.

We are keeping our eye firmly on the pandemic, but our great desire is to have on-site forum – to see each other face-to-face. The forum will open new page for the global circular bioeconomy and we will expect to see people from all over the world with the original spirit of the world bioeconomy forum – the Bioeconomy celebrates nature!

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