SugarCane

Driving bioenergy in transport – consensus at the UNICA Forum

The UNICA Forum has once again proved its standing as one of the most important events on bioenergy and transport. More than 600 people attended this year’s edition in São Paulo on 18 June 2018. Participants included eight candidates in Brazil’s Presidential race as they gear up for the elections on 18 October 2018. The discussions covered issues ranging from trade distortions to biofuels but the core topic was RenovaBio, Brazil’s flagship programme in the fight against climate change.

Only last week the Brazilian government approved the target of 10.1% reduction in transport emissions by 2028, and RenovaBio is a key element to reaching that target. Consequently, this new mechanism was on top of everybody’s mind at the UNICA Forum and it was encouraging to see the eight presidential candidates support the initiative and praise thetechnology neutrality that will enable the market to choose the best-performing technologies. Some of the candidates even want to go beyond RenovaBio. With RenovaBio Brazil is leading in the decarbonisation of transport through a carbon trading scheme. To keep this leadership position, it is important that the programme be fully and well implemented.

Transport emissions reductions is not a new territory for Brazil. Thanks to its flex-fuel cars and the use of sugarcane ethanol Brazil reduced its carbon emissions in the transport sector by more than 400 million tonnes in 13 years, that’s almost five times the performance of the EU. This enthusiasm for vehicles combining two low-carbon technologies – renewable electricity and ethanol – was another theme of the event, of which the exhibition of Toyota’s first hybrid-flex vehicle was certainly a highlight. Built on the Prius platform, the car can run on 100% electricity, 100% ethanol or any mix of the two, minimising CO2emissions.

Throughout the debate candidates overcame political differences ahead of October’s presidential elections and found common ground on the economic and social importance of the Brazilian sugarcane sector. This is not surprising, as it provides direct employment to more than 800,000 people and generates revenues equivalent to 2% of the country’s GDP, while contributing to the positive trade balance.  Similarly, participants agreed on sugarcane’s role as a key instrument towards a low-carbon economy. Despite the economic crisis, the share of Brazils’ renewables has increased and the panel recognised the role of first- and second-generation ethanol, bioelectricity and biogas in this achievement.

Trade distorting measures recently adopted by countries including China, India and Pakistan have had significant impact on Brazil, which exports two-thirds of its sugar production. At the same time, Brazil is watching closely how Thailand and the EU are reforming their sugar sector. The candidates tackled these issues in an informed way, demonstrating their grasp of the gravity of the potential impact. With an eye on domestic issues, they also debated the optimum level of administrative intervention from government, and how this affects predictability around the future energy mix. This, along with discussion of the cost of capital, hit at the key point of ensuring continued investment in Brazil’s bio-economy. As one of the country’s greatest economic strengths, the bio-economy can mitigate climate change while promoting energy security.

The UNICA Forum showed that the bio-economy will continue to be a priority for Brazil far after the presidential elections, whoever the winner.