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The bioeconomy is made up of diverse a range of activities including agriculture, keeping livestock, managing fisheries and aquaculture and food production; forestry and producing wood pulp and paper; and parts of the chemical, biotechnology and energy industries. All this can then be categorised into three areas: biotechnology, bioecology and bioinputs.
This complexity means defining the scope of the bioeconomy—as well as its monetary value and measurement, monitoring and policy development strategies—poses a problem. So, we at Fundação Getulio Vargas (FGV) embraced this challenge: a study published by our Observatory of Knowledge Innovation and Bioeconomy (OCBio) shows that the bioeconomy value chain (Bio-GDP) represents about 19.6% of Brazilian GDP.
Bio-GDP broken down by activity
To understand and monitor the bioeconomy, we must consider two points. First, sustainability and its three dimensions: economic, social and environmental. Second, technology and biological practices, and in particular those capable of using biotechnology to develop the bioeconomy.
Creating relevant indicators for all these points is essential to monitor the progress of public policies and national bioeconomy strategies. In addition, they can inform stakeholders and the wider population of the impacts of such policies and actions, mapping opportunities for regions, communities, and companies to fully and sustainably exploit their biological capacity.
The global transition to a bio-based economy—with a focus on decarbonisation—needs to take into account the reality of each region and how this will affect all economic areas. This will require scientific advancement in the coming years: the “polluting” economy that exists today was largely built on science and technical innovation developed in the past. Likewise, the decarbonisation of today’s economy will require more research and new techniques to cut greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions.
In order to understand these impacts more accurately and impartially—from the perspective of developing economies, and especially those of tropical and subtropical climates—the development of methodologies, metrics and parameters is essential.
In cutting-edge science, different parameters and measurement methodologies often coexist with very different effects for companies, sectors and countries—and advances in climate studies are no different.
Seeking to develop metrics and tropicalised parameters, the OCBio-FGV analyses and contrasts different ways of measuring GHG emissions in Brazilian agriculture. One of its most recent studies on methane helps the country to better understand the challenge of decarbonisation of the meat industry production chain. At COP26 in Glasgow, Brazil committed itself to reducing its methane emissions, largely linked to livestock; a decisive step towards this is knowing how to accurately measure one's own emissions.
However, the study also draws attention to the complexity of measuring methane emissions. In cutting-edge science, different parameters and measurement methodologies often coexist with very different effects for companies, sectors and countries—and advances in climate studies are no different.
In addition to updating and adapting metrics, there is a bias in accounting for GHG emissions that benefits oil-producing countries and harms food-producing countries. In the case of oil, those who are primarily responsible for GHG emissions are the countries at the end of the chain—that is, those who consume the product—while the emission quotas for food production mostly belong to producers.
Climate accounting—developed by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change and executed by the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change—includes an origin bias:
- One country extracts oil from the seabed, another refines it, a third builds the car's engine, and a fourth uses the car for transportation. Who is primarily responsible for GHG emissions? The country that is at the tipping point and “consumes” oil.
- One country grows soybeans, another crushes it, a third produces oil and the last consumes it at the dinner table. Who is responsible, in this case, for most of the share of GHG emissions? The country of origin that “produces” the soybeans.
Those who “take the oil out of the ground”, according to this model of climate accounting, emit little and therefore have less to worry about; whoever prepares the land to produce food is an enemy of the climate and must be fought with firmness. The basic principle of the IPCC is apparently simple: emissions must be calculated where they are produced. In other words, where GHGs are emitted into the atmosphere. As a potential solution, the majority of CO2 emissions from oil and food production could be accounted for at the time of consumption.
Whoever started the climate problem—and today obstructs the global solution to the decarbonisation of the planet—is not and has never been the cow or soy of the poor.
But such changes are a matter of dispute, as we are at a time when the climate agenda is increasingly a part of the international economic agenda. What is unnatural to assume, however, is that a metric designed in the past to meet the challenges of developed countries is now the standard for the developing world.
Finally, there is additional value in questioning the current emissions accounting regime, for in doing so what is obvious becomes clearer. Whoever started the climate problem—and today obstructs the global solution to the decarbonisation of the planet—is not and has never been the cow or soy of the poor.
The evolving challenges of measuring emissions and adjusting climate accounting is repeated on other fronts in the fight to save our climate. In climate science, it is necessary to consider the criteria and variations of different emission models in each case, based on its individual circumstances. And, where reality does not fit the model, it must be adjusted.
This is what all the most advanced research and knowledge centres in the world do. And that is what Brazilian science—with the support of OCBio—intends to do.