Economic system

“The world needs a new economic system powered by nature”

Participate in a half-day digital forum on the global circular bioeconomy, March 19, 2021, 12:00 p.m. to 4:15 p.m. UTC, here.

For the past two centuries, the world has relied on a linear, fossil fuel-based economy in which raw materials are turned into products, used and then discarded. But today, climate, biodiversity, land degradation and global health crises are calling for a fundamental transformation in production and consumption patterns. The circular bioeconomy, based on renewable materials and sustainable landscape management, is rapidly emerging as an alternative to ensure human well-being within planetary boundaries.

On March 19, the European Forest Institute (EFI), the recently merged company Center for International Forestry Research and World agroforestry (CIFOR-ICRAF) and its partners will organize the first conference on the forest bioeconomy with a focus on the countries of the South. The virtual event, scheduled ahead of this year’s UN climate and biodiversity talks, 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.

Prior to the event, Landscape News spoke with EFI Director Marc Palahí about the need to transform the current economic model, the role forests can play in a waste-free and climate-neutral future, and what it will take to move to a more sustainable system over the next decade.

Marc Palahí, director of the European Forest Institute. Courtesy of Johanna Kokkola

How can forests fuel the transition to a more sustainable economic model?

The world needs a new economic system fueled 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-feed biological resources that we can use to replace fossil materials such as plastics, steel and 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 as they are, it is entirely possible to create landscapes that are both resilient and productive. We can use forest resources to move out of fossil systems and 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 event on the forest bioeconomy. What is the goal ?

Europe has spearheaded the development of the circular bioeconomy concept and created cutting-edge technologies to implement it. But to succeed, we need to involve all regions, especially Africa, South-East Asia and South America, which in the decades to come may face growing adverse climate effects, water scarcity and food insecurity in a context of rapid urbanization and population growth. The event is part of a broader effort to increase understanding of the bioeconomy, foster its global expansion, and highlight the extraordinary role that 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 redirect the massive flows of investment, particularly 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 bio-based materials in new public buildings.

What about infrastructure and communication?

We must prioritize green infrastructure over gray infrastructure and massively replace oil refineries with alternatives using 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, people can put pressure on decision makers and brands. For example, consumer concern over microplastics released from polyester garments is prompting producers to explore wood as an alternative material for textile production.

How confident are you that the world can shift to more sustainable economic systems over the next decade to prevent the worst impacts of climate change and biodiversity loss?

The transition is possible if we start working now and everyone takes decisive action, from policymakers 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 make the necessary changes exist, but to move forward, we must begin to value natural capital as the foundation of a new and resilient economic system.