Multiple-Authorship blog platform on issues related to sugarcane cultivation and industrial applications
Today is Earth Day.
And this year we have a number of reasons to celebrate it. Perhaps the most significant one is the chance to build the future we want.
In June, the world will see Brazil hosting the largest forum ever in the history of the United Nations: Rio+20. The UN Conference on Sustainable Development represents a historic opportunity to define pathways to a more sustainable future. World leaders, along with thousands of participants from the private sector, NGOs and other groups, will come together to shape a more sustainable world where economic growth, poverty reduction, social equity and environmental protection go hand-in-hand.
The fact is that by 2050, our planet will be a home to nine billion people. Nine billion people who will need to feed themselves and power their lives. In a world of rising energy demand, decreasing traditional fossil energy supplies and growing concerns about climate change, we all urgently need to act.
At Rio+20, the international community will seek ways to make theoretical solutions become reality. Many of those solutions already exist; the goal is to scale them up, share best practice. And here is where we at UNICA have something to say.
At a time when most countries around the world are searching for clean, commercially viable, renewable options, sugarcane has proved to be a successful alternative to reduce greenhouse gas emissions in Brazil while diversifying energy supplies and reducing our dependence on oil.
In the last decade alone, sugarcane has been the centrepiece of Brazil’s renewable energy expansion strategy, and this gives Brazil a leading role in the search for low-carbon solutions to climate change, while promoting economic growth.
All this is largely possible because of sugarcane’s unique versatility. Just look at sugarcane derived ethanol - it is an affordable transportation fuel that, compared to gasoline, reduces C02 emissions by an average of 90 percent, and diminishes local air pollution and harmful emissions. Brazil replaced almost half of its gasoline consumption with ethanol, using just 1.4% of its arable land.
Bioelectricity is another great asset. Clean electricity generated from the stalks and straw of sugarcane (bagasse) has a lower environmental impact than fossil fuel thermoelectric plants or large hydroelectric power stations.
Sugarcane has the potential to help reshape the world energy markets, as high-tech innovation is unlocking many other uses of this plant that go beyond food, ethanol and bioelectricity, such as bioplastics, biohydrocarbons and biochemicals.
The Brazilian experience represents a successful example of what happens when private sector innovation and know-how and supportive policy go hand-in-hand. I am glad that industry will play a greater role at Rio+20, especially in helping demonstrate that many of the smart solutions we need to fight climate change already exist. We just need our governments to put in place incentive structures and enable the environment required for those solutions to grow in scale. Rio+20 gives Brazil the opportunity to lead by example - we hope that our unique journey can be a useful one for others.
The future we want is not just a mere ‘wish list’. The future we want is reflected every day through actions and decisions. We need energy to power our lives and our economies. But we no longer have to rely on fossil fuels - today we have a choice that allows us to tread lightly on the environment. On a day like today, I/we give our governments a vote of confidence and hope Rio+20 marks the difference between ‘what we say’ and ‘what we do’.
Shouldn’t every day be Earth Day?
As I write this, my Brazilian and American colleagues from government and private sector are working around the clock to ensure that President Dilma Rousseff’s trip to Washington D.C. on this upcoming Monday is a great success. Success for Brazil and success for the U.S. And because this is the President’s first trip to the U.S. in her current post it makes it all the more important. I am particularly glad that this meeting takes place at a time when the ethanol import tariff is an issue of the past. So, we can strike that item off the agenda once and for all.
Those who follow us closely will know that as of the end of 2011 Brazil and the U.S. have zeroed their import tariffs on ethanol, creating a truly free and impressively large market for sugarcane derived biofuel. We and many others see this as a big milestone in time. If you add the Strategic Energy Dialogue to this you’ve got continued political commitment on the U.S. part. And if you add President Dilma’s and President Obama’s announcement of the expansion of the MoU on biofuels to include cooperation in aviation in March last year, you’ve got nothing short of a new era in energy cooperation between our two great nations.
We’ve passed some major hurdles, that’s for sure. We should now focus on finding ways to help create a global market for ethanol. This is my hope for the meeting next week. I strongly believe our governments are moving in the right direction on the MoU and on the Strategic Energy Dialogue. But I also believe we’d have more and faster impact if the private sectors in both countries are actively engaged in these processes. We’re hopeful that our government will call on us. Our capacity to bring new ideas to the table and our desire to innovate and invest can help make this political cooperation a reality for businesses and for consumers.
We all recognize that finding renewable, affordable and sustainable solutions to the world’s energy challenges requires a great deal of commitment and a good deal of courage. When Brazil and the U.S. eliminated their import tariffs they sent a clear signal to the global community. But both nation’s commitment and dedication need to be met with open minds and open arms if we want real, positive change for the environment. Come end of day Monday, we might know what energy deliverables will be announced and what new challenges will be put before us. I am excited to see what the results will be.
Brazil and the U.S. have shown what’s possible when policy is right, when markets are open and when trade and innovation are encouraged. But the challenges we face are complex and they require everyone’s genuine commitment that goes beyond what’s said in policy papers. We need to get things done! The goal here is to move the world away from near complete dependence on fossil fuels. When the ambition is so high, you can safely assume that the gains will be too.