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Leading representatives from science, investors and industry, including The Club of Rome, presented a new 10 point action plan to HRH The Prince of Wales last week. The aim is to accelerate the transition to a circular bioeconomy to enable a carbon-neutral, renewable and inclusive economy that prospers in harmony with nature.
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“The Action Plan is our response to HRH The Prince of Wales’ call to invest in nature as the true engine for our economy”, said Marc Palahí, Director of the European Forest Institute (EFI). “We brought together over 25 authors from across scientific disciplines to consider what global, holistic and transformative action we can take to put the world on a sustainable path.”

The 10 Action points are divided into 6 transformative action points and 4 enabling action points.

Transformative action points

1. Aim at sustainable wellbeing
The current fossil-based economy measured by Gross Domestic Product (GDP) should be replaced by an economy aiming at sustainable wellbeing centered around people and our natural environment. The UN’s Sustainable Development Goals provide an internationally agreed framework to develop new indicator approaches and integrate them in the national accounts accordingly.

2. Invest in nature and biodiversity
Measures to protect and enhance biodiversity and our natural capital are essential for sustainable wellbeing, human health and a resilient circular bioeconomy. Fostering more species-rich systems can support productive and resilient agriculture, forestry and aquaculture, while avoiding the pitfalls of climate change, land degradation, resource depletion, pollution and insect decline. Furthermore, protecting large, contiguous biodiverse systems across different ecoregions is necessary to prevent the deterioration of global ecosystem services, species extinction and the rapid erosion of biodiversity.

3. Ensure an equitable distribution of prosperity
Biological resources like agriculture or forest resources, are usually owned and managed by many more people, communities and entities, when compared to fossil resources, such as gas and oil. This offers the circular bioeconomy the possibility to generate a more equitable distribution of income, jobs, infrastructure and prosperity across a wider geography. To do that, circular bioeconomy value chains need to be co-created with the participation of local communities.

4. Rethink holistically land, food and health systems
Transforming the land sector (agriculture, forestry, wetlands, bioenergy) towards more sustainable practices could contribute an estimated 30% of the global mitigation needed in 2050 to deliver on the 1.5°C target of the Paris Agreement. Scaling up sustainable agriculture practices and climate smart forestry measures is needed to meet the demand for food while providing key regulating ecosystem services and sustainable feedstocks for producing biobased products and bioenergy. A one-health approach is also necessary to address holistically human and animal health in connection to land use and climate change.

5. Transform industrial sector
It is urgent to deploy scalable innovations and viable technologies to produce resource-efficient, circular and low carbon solutions based on both renewable energy and sustainability sourced bio-based materials. A good example is the first ever car made of nanocellulose, a biomaterial five times lighter and stronger than steel, produced in Japan in 2019. New biomaterials, including bioplastics, hold tremendous promise due to its lower carbon footprint and biodegradability compared to petrochemical products. For instance, new wood-based textiles have a climate mitigation effect of 5 kg CO2 per kg of product used compared to polyester. Finally, sustainable fuels processed from biowaste or even carbon emissions can be now used in aviation.

6. Reimagine cities through ecological lenses
UN projections foresee 2.3 billion new urban dwellers by 2050. Producing the volume of new housing required could claim up to 20% of the remaining carbon budget for 2020-2050 if mineral-based construction materials such as steel and cement are used.

A shift to biomaterials (based on engineering wood or bamboo) could substantially reduce both the amount of materials used and the carbon footprint of our cities while creating durable carbon pools. Using wood in construction has a climate mitigation effect of 2.4-2.9 Kg CO2 per Kg of product used when compared to concrete, while also storing 1 ton of CO2 in each m3 of products.

Building with wood is also more resource efficient as it can reduce the total amount of materials used in construction by 50%. Finally, the use of nature-based solutions such as urban forests, trees and vegetation has positive impacts on the health of urban populations while reducing the urban heat island effects.

Enabling action points

7. Create an enabling regulatory framework
The authors of the Action Plan recommend to abolish subsidies that support the use of fossil fuels, while shifting taxes from labour to resource and energy consumption. A new market should be created for circular bioproducts, by developing public procurement and common standards. Carbon pricing mechanism should be put forward to create a level playing field for biobased materials. Also, waste regulations should acknowledge the fact that waste can be a valuable resource.

8. Bring purposeful innovation to the investment and political agenda
Create innovation niches and collaboration between public and private actors from different sectors and disciplines: bio-, nano-, digital, robotics, business etc. to reimagine business models, products and value chains. Patents and copyrights should not hinder progress, but provide incentives for innovation. Ethical and human rights questions should be addressed and regulated.

9. Ensure access to finance and enhance risk-taking capacity
Establish venture-capital funding, green bonds, and dedicated national and international circular bioeconomy funds (e.g. the European Circular Bioeconomy Fund). A specific circular bioeconomic investment platform should be created. And public-private partnerships like the Bio-based Industries Joint Undertaking should be supported, to restore and manage ecosystems, as well as demonstrate new technologies, creating new cross-sector clusters and setting up flagship plants thet deploy new technologies and demonstrate cost and performance improvements.

10. Intensify and broaden research and education
Support mission-oriented research and development in selected breakthrough projects that benefit from an international scale, covering food systems, land-use, biocities, solid and liquid waste management, biorefineries, biodiversity, one health, social equity and women empowering.

Create transdisciplinary research programmes and facilities including local communities to better understand the local trade-offs and synergies between climate change, land-use options and the provision of ecosystem services, including biodiversity.

Anticipate and design the new knowledge and skills on complex systems that will be required in the future within the circular bioeconomy of wellbeing and integrate them in primary education, vocational training, academic studies and business schools, through new curricula.

Circular Bioeconomy Alliance

The Action Plan will serve as the guiding document for a new Circular Bioeconomy Alliance, to be established by HRH The Prince of Wales and the World Economic Forum under the Sustainable Markets Initiative. The European Forest Institute (EFI) will play a key role in the newly established Alliance by facilitating the provision of knowledge-informed support, as well as providing a networking platform to connect the dots between investors, companies, governmental and non-governmental organizations to advance the circular bioeconomy globally.

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