Fundação Renova

Low carbon dioxide emission in land use: interdependence is the name of the game (PART 5)

Published in: 04/07/2017


In the series of the article “Low carbon dioxide emission in land use: interdependence is the name of the game”, Roberto S. Waack, CEO of the Renova Foundation, has previously discussed the Brazilian competitive advantages in the low-carbon economy and the importance of innovative technologies and management. The discussion will now address innovations in the forestry area, such as biotechnology, forest regeneration and the recovery of soils and degraded areas. Continue reading.


Studies and reports on restoration and reforestation are plentiful. In Brazil, the most intensely discussed goal is to restore 12 million hectares (29 million acres), its Intended Nationally Determined Contribution (INDC). Abroad, two important and complementary initiatives stand out: the Bonn Challenge and the New York Declaration on Forests. The first initiative’s ambition is to restore 150 million (370 million acres) hectares of cleared areas by 2020. The second, besides the total indicated in the Bonn Challenge, intends to add another 200 million hectares (495 million acres) by 2030. The three mentioned propositions are in line with the Paris Agreement. All are considered very ambitious.

In a recent study conducted by The New Climate Economy, the field of change of land use (AFOLU) appears to have great potential to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 2030. The document estimates that reforestation can promote an annual reduction of emissions of around 1.2 to 2.9 gigatons of CO2e. The amount is between 3% and 5% of the total reductions that are required to keep global warming below 2 ° C, taking the pre-industrial period as a reference.

One of the great debates about the forest restoration agenda refers to the cost to reforest one hectare. Ideological confrontations have sought to defend different models based on more environmental or more economic matrices. In a first estimate, the Institute Escolhas, as per request by the Brazil Climate, Forestry and Agriculture Coalition, pointed out the need for investments of approximately R$ 30 billion to R $ 50 billion for the reforestation of 12 million hectares (29 million acres) by 2030 (following the Brazilian INDC).

This statement was based on the distribution of the activity in five different forest restoration models: (a) conducting and enrichment, (b) densification and enrichment, (c) direct planting of seedlings and seeds, (d) companion planting of native and exotic species and (e) agroforestry systems. So, the agenda of forest recovery is very extensive, without a strict separation between the different models. There may be cases of combinations and gradual transition between them.

This scenario requires a consistent effort in research and development. Brazil has one of the world’s best technological arsenals in silviculture, proven by the competitiveness in planting species such as pine and eucalyptus. Therefore, the challenge is not to cause a technological breakthrough, but to translate the extensive silvicultural knowledge between species. Examples include topics such as achieving a good genetic base of native species, gathering and processing of seeds, production of seedlings, improved classical breeding, silvicultural treatment, sanitary control, establishment of growth curves, companion planting and monitoring.

The forecasts for the demand of forest products are growing rapidly. The main driver of this phenomenon is the consolidation of the bio-economy, with segments of expanded markets (energy, biomaterials, chemical industry). The more traditional companies of the sector are leading the process, aware of the demands of end consumers and reputational elements for members of the value chain. The phrase exposed by Stora Enso, one of the oldest and most innovative companies in the industry, is emblematic: “Anything made from fossil-based materials today can be made from a tree tomorrow”.

The estimated supply can only be achieved with intensified plantations, improved efficiency and the worldwide adoption of sustainable management systems. These trends are confirmed by the reduction of deforestation rates and the consequent decrease in the wood supply derived from forest conversions.

Innovations in the recovery of soils and degraded areas are critical for the low-carbon economy.

Innovations in the recovery of soils and degraded areas are critical for the low-carbon economy. | Photo: Leo Drumond / NITRO

In the forest area, there is a consolidation of innovations in precision silviculture, with the inclusion of monitoring (which goes from satellite image processing to the use of drones), georeferencing and data management as routines. Biotechnology is advancing at a fast pace, impacting the productivity, the resistance to pests and the adaptation to environmental conditions such as water stress and soils with nutritional deficiencies. It is estimated that by 2050 genetic improvement may have the potential to double the average forest growth rate in the world.

The application of biotechnology is a good example of how the concept of dynamic capabilities can be applied. The frontier is not just in technological innovation; it demands the incorporation of skills in conducting the debate on genetically modified trees. Dialogue initiatives have been growing, but some stakeholders (not only NGOs but also companies related to the end consumer) are still hesitant as to technological inevitability, while recognizing its scope and its value. The debate goes beyond the issue of environmental security, encompassing ideological elements such as the distribution of social benefits of the new technology.

Also in the forestry field, knowledge applied to forest regeneration and recovery of soils and degraded areas form a strong demand, with extensive discussions on silvicultural models of native species and attention to various existing restoration methods. In silviculture, the concept of multiple use is established as a good practice paradigm. Countries with high incomes, mostly in the northern hemisphere, largely dominate these techniques, but the application of them in Brazil is still very restricted.

In general, it broadens the multiple and full use of trees and of forest and industrial by-products, such as lignin, in the pulp and paper industry, and sawmill waste in the solid wood sector. In the industrial processing front, advances in bioenergy stand out, weather in the direct use of wood as a thermal or thermoelectric component or in the direct production of second generation biofuels. The biomaterials market is expanding, with a strong emphasis on bio-plastics, textiles, biocompounds, panels and automotive materials, with a special emphasis on low weight products with a positive impact on the emissions of greenhouse gases from the transportation sector. The application of forest products in the production of chemicals such as sugars, phenols, acids, abrasives, glues and others keep on advancing, with yields entering pilot and industrial scales in North America and other northern countries.

Innovations in the forest industry include advances in the traceability of products, especially critical in products from tropical zones, following the trend of monitoring the origin, in addition to the legality demanded by regulators of the main buying countries. This is another good example of how the dynamic capabilities go beyond the internal environment of companies, often limited to what happens in their forests and industries.

The increasing complexity of business transactions and the acceptance of products require innovative skills in marketing, PR, brand management and reputation. The dynamism in the world of externalities management and social licensing to operate explain the growth of voluntary certification, notably the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC), and initiatives such as The Forest Dialog and New Generations Plantations. The active participation in these forums requires complementary skills to the traditional ones, representing what Teece regards as dynamic external challenges.

Therefore, there is the consensus that consumption will be crucial in innovation, especially with the increasing awareness of the positive role of forests and products derived from them, in climate change and in the consequent demand for alternative products to fossil fuels. The development of innovations in the forestry field is directly linked to the concept of responsible consumption.

In relation to society and consumers, the role of forests in the context of climate change requires what seems to be the main innovation in management models: expand the integration of the forest world with other sectors such as energy and agribusiness, within the context of “landscape models”, which include restoration and environmental services. The concept of dynamic capabilities does not fit the myopic focus on the internal environment of corporations and their properties. We can’t ignore the fact that the trend of the forest sector is to be the protagonist of the main demands of the expanded use of soil occupied by its trees and industries. The spatial and territorial vision, with its complex social, environmental and political components, needs to be part of the repertoire of industry managers.

Check out the full article “Low carbon dioxide emission in land use: interdependence is the name of the game” on Wednesday, April 12.

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