On the path to net zero, Canada must grow a circular bioeconomy
By Sandy Ferguson and Rob van Adrichem
Bathroom sinks made of wood fibre, energy derived from garbage, skyscrapers built of cross-laminated timber, and carbon fibre that is used in Formula 1 cars are all examples of bioproducts that are helping us replace the use of fossil fuels in our everyday lives. Today – July 7 – we are joining the World Bioeconomy Forum in celebrating World Bioproducts Day to raise awareness of the importance of bioproducts all around us, and how they contribute to environmental sustainability, community resiliency, and climate action.
It has been a tough 18 months. We are emerging from a global pandemic more aware than ever that climate change, social justice, and economic resiliency are forever linked. It’s no longer a question of choosing the environment vs the economy vs societal equality; and it’s not just in far-away places that climate change is wreaking havoc. This week we have seen record temperatures, followed by devasting wildfires in our home province: beautiful British Columbia.
It’s easy to become overwhelmed by the challenge before us. As Canadians, we should be proud of the opportunity to use our natural resources to take action on global climate change and lead the world. And why shouldn’t we: Canada leads the world with nearly 9,000 trees per capita and we have diverse know-how in communities, industry, and academia.
We saw first-hand at the recent Canadian Bioeconomy Conference, which focuses on the forest bioeconomy, today’s reality and the potential for Canada to play a leading role in the emerging low-carbon transition. Back when we had our last conference in 2018, net zero might have referred to a scoreless draw in a hockey game. Today, net zero is on the minds of every government and every industry and is firmly positioned as society’s biggest challenge AND its greatest opportunity. Our conference plays just one small part in a multitude of forums that seek to showcase, educate, and inspire all stakeholders – including government, business, communities, researchers, and the public – on how our natural resources are providing the foundation for the next major transition of the industrial economy.
A healthy forest provides many cultural, spiritual, recreational, environmental, and economic benefits for all Canadians. We are concerned that more people aren’t aware of the benefits a properly managed working forest can provide to climate change as well as to the hundreds of communities that are reliant on our forests. The key to sustainably managed forests is the ability to grow more trees than are harvested. This is what is mandated and practiced in Canada and contributes to our forests playing an essential role as carbon sinks. Add to that the ability of manufactured forest products to store carbon and displace other materials that emit large amounts of greenhouse gases (GHG), and the utilization of residuals from forest sector harvesting and manufacturing to create products that can substitute fossil fuels, and you have a huge opportunity. It’s called the forest bioeconomy, a significant part of the broader circular bioeconomy. McKinsey Global Institute wrote in May 2020 that the Bio Revolution could be worth up to $4 trillion per year over the next ten to 20 years.
The bioeconomy has the potential to deliver big wins for Canada and internationally, including GHG reduction and reaching net Zero by 2050, competitive and sustainable industries, economic resiliency, strengthened rural communities, and greater indigenous opportunity and inclusion. We have to do it right.
Governments at all levels can play an essential role in advancing the circular bioeconomy. These include funding and tax regimes that leverage private capital, creating smart policies and regulation that stimulate and provide long term certainty for investors, and facilitating collaborative partnerships between all stakeholders in the bioeconomy ecosystem.
Industry has a role to play, including “traditional” companies in the energy sector that are significant investors in clean tech and the bioeconomy. During our conference, we heard repeatedly of the importance of collaboration between industry and government, but also between and among between industries. Enormous amounts of capital are often required to move from niche to mainstream, as well as the knowledge of markets and consumer preferences and the expertise of the men and women who work within our resource industries.
In order to achieve a circular bioeconomy on the path to net-zero, we need a lot: the right policies, programs, and incentives that send market signals to leverage and de-risk investment; effective codes and standards; stronger and sustainable biomass supply chains and promotion of bioeconomy development opportunity zones; game-changing partnerships and investments from companies; real involvement and leadership from communities that are reliant on industries such as forestry; and wide-ranging R&D. Many are calling for a national bioeconomy strategy that will pull all bioeconomy stakeholders together with a common vision. And finally, and maybe most importantly, we also need courage to dare to be the best in the world. Let’s think about that on World Bioproducts Day and not let this opportunity pass us by.
Sandy Ferguson is principal of SF Consulting. Rob van Adrichem is Director of External Relations at the City of Prince George. Both have been members of the Board for the Canadian Bioeconomy Conference and Exhibition for over a decade; Rob is currently Chair of the Board and Sandy is Chair of the Program Committee. The conference was first established in 2004 and is the largest and longest-running event of its kind in Canada, focused on the forest-based bioeconomy. The most-recent conference was held on June 22-23, 2021.