There's a clock ticking down – Climate Clock – calculating the remaining carbon budget that we can still release into the atmosphere for various climate scenarios. To restrict warming to 1.5 degrees and suppress climate change, it's under seven years. The clock is ticking and it’s shockingly little time.
The second-best target is to limit warming to two degrees. There, climate scientists believe we have around 25 years – a little bit more time to act. But still, it will be very challenging and ambitious to achieve this limit, especially as demand for resources will potentially continue to increase as populations grow. Recent IPCC reports are suggesting that may face three to four degrees of warming, unless we act quickly and massively, and really push things forward. So, accelerating the bioeconomy is vital.
For us at UPM Biochemicals, technology and markets are global but implementation is always regional. To deliver real sustainability, you have to look into your region for supply chains and raw materials. You see what's available – are there sustainable, local feedstocks and utilities? Can you establish a short supply chain? Can you maximise synergies and the local economic benefit to the community?
Sometimes, the bioeconomy is regarded as something in the far distance – but that's not true. It can be done now, although it takes courage and dedication as it’s still relatively new from a technology and market perspective.
We know that there are solutions to address the climate crisis. Many business models and technologies are ready. I'm convinced that these kinds of investments are mature enough to be implemented on an industrial scale today, and that more will then hopefully follow our example, extending the bioeconomy and defossilising materials.
Our Leuna operation in Saxony-Anhalt demonstrates that. The cornerstone of the innovation is a global first – a vast facility under construction in the German federal state of Saxony-Anhalt – to build the world's first biorefinery to produce a range of wood-based biochemicals. UPM is investing Euro 750m in the facility. Production will begin in 2023 and ramp up in 2024. This will initiate the critical switch to sustainable raw material use and significantly reduce the carbon footprint in everyday products – from PET bottles to shoe soles and sportswear, from rubber to flooring. It will radically improve their CO2 footprint compared to fossil-based alternatives.
Working toward a centre for Europe’s future bio-economy: Saxony-Anhalt and UPM Biochemicals
Collaboration through the entire value chain is crucial. From breakthrough technology development through efficient production of high performing intermediates and products to effective recovering and recycling. Universities and institutes must work with start-ups, connected to companies who are driving towards full commercial scale. Product design needs to be integrated. The way we market and explain to consumers and customers is vital, because the story and the credentials of the product from the feedstock to the end consumer need clear and transparent communication of their advantages.
Without collaboration, you will not be able to do this. It also means building in truly circular economic models, taking back and reusing or recycling the end product. That involves even more actors, such as local authorities.
Optimistically, the crisis we face in climate and energy may accelerate change to better incorporate the renewable resources available in our countries and in our regions – like woody biomass – and achieve more with it than we have done so far.
We may also see the mindset switching away from accepting that everything is globally interconnected, encouraging us to think about spatial geography differently. We may begin to recognise that smaller scale approaches, using regionally available resources like biomass, can play a significant role in both reducing supply and risk, and achieve a world beyond fossils.