As compounding ecological and social crises emerge in the world, it is increasingly clear that a new economic model is needed, one that prioritizes environmental health and human well-being. The circular bioeconomy promises to do just that – all while supporting inclusive economic growth and jobs. This nature and people-focused model aims to create an economic system that utilizes renewable biomaterials efficiently to meet humanity’s needs, after which resources aren’t wasted and are instead reused and repurposed. This marks a massive paradigm shift from the current make-use-dispose linear economy that is resulting in runaway climate change.
Last Friday, CIFOR–ICRAF, the European Forest Institute (EFI), the Finnish Innovation Fund Sitra, the Global Landscapes Forum (GLF) and the Sustainable Markets Initiative Circular Bioeconomy Alliance (SMI CBA) discussed the circular bioeconomy in the digital forum “Nature at the heart of a global circular bioeconomy“, where Prince Charles, heir to the British throne and long-time environmental advocate, outlined in the opening address the importance of transitioning to this new economic system. With permission, we have provided here his opening address:
Ladies and gentlemen, as we move from crisis to gradual recovery from the coronavirus pandemic, we have a unique but narrow window of opportunity to transform our economy and to bring forward the changes that have been long delayed and which our society needs in order to create a genuinely sustainable future that is within planetary boundaries.
To achieve this, we must put nature at the center of the circle. And to make this possible, we must act for health and well-being. We must recognize the true value of biodiversity and the fundamental interdependence of all living things. And we must invest in nature as the true engine for a new economy, a circular bioeconomy, that gives back to nature as much as we take from her in order to restore urgently the balance we have so rashly disrupted. The advances of science and technology at the intersection of the biological, physical and digital worlds provides the circular bioeconomy with the innovation potential to replace the current fossil-based economy.
The pandemic we are experiencing is a symptom of the wider challenges of climate change and biodiversity loss. The crisis caused by our fossil-based economy has peaked dramatically in the past 50 years of intense industrialization.
Science also shows that biodiversity loss and deforestation are important factors explaining the emergence and transmission of zoonotic diseases, such as COVID-19. So this current crisis is just another wake up call, demonstrating in dramatic fashion the fact that we are crossing the resilience boundaries of our planet.
What we need now, ladies and gentleman, is a new way of thinking as a basis for a new economic paradigm, one that is circular, not linear. One where prosperity and human well-being takes place within the ecological boundaries of our planet – in other words, a paradigm based on a renewable, regenerative and inclusive economy powered by nature and that prospers in harmony with nature.
A circular bioeconomy relying on healthy, biodiverse and resilient ecosystems offers a conceptual framework for using renewable, natural capital to provide a more durable form of well-being through the provision of ecosystem services and the sustainable management of biological resources such as plants, animals, microorganisms and derived biomass, including organic waste.
At the same time, the secular transformation of biological resources into food, feed, energy and biomaterials within the ecological boundaries of the ecosystems is absolutely key to move away from an unsustainable fossil-based economy. All of this has the potential to create entirely new sustainable industries and livelihoods.
Now, having been engaged in these issues for, I suppose, nigh on 50 years, when I made my first speech on the environment and issues of waste, and having talked to countless experts across the globe, I’ve come to realize that it is not a lack of capital that is holding us back, but rather the way in which we deploy it.
And I must say, in all these years of trying to raise awareness of the crucial need to take action before it is too late, it is only now, in the last year or so, that the level of interest in sustainable investments and innovation has suddenly never been higher. Therefore, to seize the rapidly closing window of opportunity we have before us, we must act and act now to catalyze the paradigm shift we so desperately need.
It is utterly crucial that we connect investments to investable circular bioeconomy solutions. And this is why I am so delighted that the circular bioeconomy loans, as part of my Sustainable Markets Initiative, is working to connect the dots between investors, companies, governmental and non-governmental organizations to advance the circular bioeconomy globally.
The alliance serves as a central hub for supporting an informed transition to a circular bioeconomy that is climate-neutral, inclusive and prospers in harmony with nature. If we are to achieve results, we must take the necessary action with speed and determination, quickly and through a multi stakeholder approach.
The time for talking and testing our world to destruction is long past. So I very much hope you will join us in this vital effort as we work collectively to put nature at the heart of global decision making. And I need hardly say I much look forward to genuinely effective outcomes from this critical conference.