A powerful, innovative technology to mitigate climate change
Dirk Carrez, Director of Industrial Biotechnology, EuropaBio
Meeting market demands while at the same time reducing the impact we have on our climate is of critical importance to industry. Although, in the past, discussions have centred around the causes of climate change, today society, industry, governments and other stakeholders are searching for solutions to mitigate its impact on our health and on the environment.
Industrial greenhouse gas emissions have substantially decreased over recent years in most industrialised countries. Both regulators and industry have responded to the need to work towards a sustainable future and have focused on developing and innovating technological improvements for the benefit of our environment. However, in spite of these endeavours, current practices and technologies will most likely be insufficient or inadequate to achieve the ambitious objectives set by several countries to tackle climate change. Industries must take bold steps towards establishing more sustainable growth and must be given the opportunity to implement technologies, including the use of biotechnology to reduce our carbon footprint.
Biotechnology as a solution provider for climate change
Since the industrial revolution, economic growth has often been linked with accelerating negative environmental impact. The more mankind has produced, the more the planet has been exploited. Industrial biotechnology alters this pattern and breaks the cycle of resource consumption by rethinking traditional industrial processes.
By providing a range of options for competitive industrial performance, biotechnology could enhance economic growth, at the same time biotechnology can save water, energy, raw materials and also reduce waste production.
Industrial biotechnology offers the realistic prospect of a revolutionary move to industrial sustainability through a bio-based economy, with associated emissions reductions of between 1 and 2.5 billion tonnes annually by 2030. Agricultural biotechnology is the key to enabling agriculture to adapt to a warming climate and to ensuring production keeps up with rising demand across the world in an environmentally sensitive manner.
Industrial biotechnology: part of the solution to mitigate climate change and to break the cycle of resource consumption
Industrial or white biotechnology uses enzymes and micro-organisms to make bio-based products in sectors such as chemicals, food and feed, detergents, paper and pulp, textiles and bioenergy (such as biofuels or biogas). In doing so, biotechnology uses renewable raw materials and is one of the most promising, innovative approaches towards lowering greenhouse gas emissions.
The application of industrial biotechnology has been proven to make quite significant contributions towards mitigating the impacts of climate change in these and other sectors. In addition to environmental benefits, biotechnology can improve industry performance and product value and, as the technology develops and matures, white biotechnology will yield more viable solutions for our environment. These innovative solutions bring added benefits for both our climate and our economy.
Industrial biotechnology is based on renewable resources, can save energy in production processes, and can significantly reduce CO2 emissions. The impact that biotechnology has on industry is confirmed by scientific studies and reports, such as the OECD’s report on the application of biotechnology to industrial sustainability and, most recently, by the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF) report on the potential of industrial biotechnology to cut CO2 emissions and help build a greener economy.
The WWF report concludes that the full climate change mitigation potential of biotechnology processes and bio-based products ranges from between one billion and 2.5 billion tons CO2 equivalent per year by 2030. This represents more than Germany’s total reported emissions in 1990. Many low-carbon technologies are already available, and future innovations offer greater potential. Forward-thinking companies have already discovered the potential of biotechnology to cut greenhouse gas emissions.
However, in order to fully realise the potential of biotechnology it will be critical that international policy creates a fully supportive biotechnology legislative framework.
Biotechnology leading us towards a bio-based economy
Our existing energy infrastructure and production processes are largely based on fossil fuels, which results in high levels of greenhouse gas emissions. However, the bio-based economy refers to a future society that will no longer be wholly dependant on fossil fuels and industrial raw materials.
Biotechnology products are a substitute for certain fossil fuel-based products, and they play a valuable role in contributing to a more sustainable society, with the potential to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, generate less waste, and use less fossil fuel and water. The potential to improve sustainability in industry using biotechnology is vast and should be among the top technologies considered in any policy discussion.
Looking to the future, growth and sustainability could go hand in hand by creating new local and international non-food markets based upon the use of local agricultural waste and by contributing to rural development by providing alternative business models for farmers through diversified supplies of renewable raw materials for the bioeconomy. In this and other ways, the quality of life of our global society can be improved by biotechnology while reducing environmental impact and developing innovative products at affordable costs.
If enabled by a supportive, coherent and holistic regulatory framework, industrial biotechnology can help the dream of providing green jobs, improving economic and environmental efficiency (eco-efficiency) and sustainability, while maintaining or improving competitive advantage and growth, a reality for Europe and for Europeans.