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?
A seasoned professional specializing in international trade policy, Géraldine Kutas leverages over a decade of experience to strengthen UNICA’s activities across the European Union, the United States and Asia. She has a deep expertise in biofuels and agricultural policies, coupled with extensive exposure to multilateral and regional trade negotiations in agriculture. Ms. Kutas is the author and co-author of several international publications on these topics. Before joining UNICA, she was a researcher and a professor at the Groupe d’Economie Mondiale at Sciences Po(GEM), Paris, and coordinator of the European Biofuels Policy research programme (EBP). Ms. Kutas has also worked as a consultant at the Inter-American Bank of Development and for agro-business firms. Ms. Kutas has a Ph.D. in International Economics from the Institut d’Etudes Poliques de Paris and a Master degree in Latin American Studies from Georgetown University, Washington DC.