We are delighted to bring you an exclusive interview with Everton Vargas, another of the World BioEconomy Forum’s advisory board members.
Everton Vieira Vargas is a Brazilian diplomat, and former ambassador of Brazil to the European Union, holding the post of Brazilian Ambassador to Germany from 2009 to 2013 and Argentina from 2013 – 2016.
During his career, Everton has been Political Undersecretary General and Director of the Department of Environment and Special Issues at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Brazil. At the ministry in Brazil he has also been Head of the Science and Technology Division, Coordinator of the Summit of the Americas and Head of the Environment Division.
From 2007 to 2008 Everton was part of the G8 summit meetings in Japan and Germany where he acted as Sherpa to the Brazilian president.
Everton has variously served at the Brazilian Embassy in Bonn, at the Mission of Brazil to the United Nations in New York and at the Embassy in Tokyo. He holds a doctorate in sociology from the University of Brasília.
You have been heavily involved in international conservation, sustainability and climate change discussions on behalf of the Brazilian government in the course of your career. Can you tell us what progress has been made when it comes to the bioeconomy sector in the country up until now?
I started to get involved with environment and sustainable development when I was assigned to the Brazilian Mission to the United Nations, in New York, in 1988. Then, the focus was concentrated on the meaning of sustainable development, as presented in the Brundtland Report – Our Common Future –released in 1987. The concept was also developed in the report “Environmental Perspective to the Year 2000 and Beyond”, prepared by the UNEP Governing Council and adopted by the General Assembly in Resolution 42/186. This document was negotiated by the member states of the UNEP Governing Council, but, actually, had less repercussion that the Brundtland Report.
In those years, the concept of bioeconomy was still incipient. The potential value of biological and genetic resources gained prominence, however, with the growing pressure against their predatory exploitation. This exploitation was leading to alarming rates of deforestation, loss of marshlands, pollution of waterways and, in particular, to annihilation of certain species. The consequences of those impacts on ecosystems gave rise to serious concerns among scientists and traditional and indigenous communities about the loss of nutrients. Other anthropogenic events were also leading to the disappearance of biotic resources and to increasing the rate of extinction of whole species.
Discussions about biological and genetic resources were mainly concentrated on the imperatives of establishing a set of agreed rules for their conservation and sustainable use, and, at the same time, safeguard national sovereignty over those resources. That was in fact the major dilemma during the negotiation of the Convention on Biological Diversity. The negotiation went beyond these main issues to include the concepts of sharing benefits derived from the use of genetic resources, of protection of traditional knowledge, as well as the need for access to new and additional financial resources and transfer of environmentally sound technologies, particularly for the developing countries.
Bioeconomy is associated to the success in the productivity and competitiveness of Brazilian agriculture and its penetration in foreign markets. Brazil is now evolving towards a second stage with investments in products from extractive areas and other non-timber products. This occurs not only in the Amazon Region, but also in the Atlantic Forest, along the east coast of Brazil.
There is a growing awareness of the potential of these products. Their multiple applications and their importance in preserving ecosystems show us that an important segment of bio-based materials (excluding biomass) is actually outside the circular economy, as pointed out in the 2015 EU Circular Economy Action Plan. Circular economy, according to this reasoning, focuses on “maintaining the value of products, materials, and resources in the economy for as long as possible” and increasing the ecoefficiency of processes (CORUS, M., Dammer, L., 2018). The corollary is that many elements of bioeconomy go beyond the objectives of the circular economy, including aspects focused on the functionality of products and services.
The progress made by Brazilian agriculture, with huge investments in capacity building and in knowledge, is certainly a paradigm for the further development of bioeconomy in the country. In a vast country like Brazil, one should not succumb to the mirage of trying to define a bioeconomy policy or strategy for the entire country. With many different economic, geographical, ecological and social conditions within and between its regions, the country demands strategies and policies that not only stimulate investments and innovation but also have a strong social component for engaging the population, in particular those segments living in the fringes of its society.
The Amazon region is of vital importance to the general health of the planet due to its immense size and the biodiversity of its flora and fauna. What does the future hold for the region when it comes to bioeconomy challenges and opportunities?
The Legal Amazon in Brazil goes beyond the Northern Region. The nine states of Legal Amazon comprise 5.1 million km2 (60% of the Brazilian surface area), 29.3 million inhabitants (14% of the country’s population), 808 municipalities (14.5% of the total in Brazil), and a GDP of R$ 623 billion (9% of Brazil’s GDP).
It is a strategic asset for Brazil. The sheer size of the area, its long borders with six South American countries, and the economic potential of its untapped natural resources are among the key elements that, since colonial times, have been at the core of the doctrine on protecting the Region from foreign occupation and overall concerns about its security.
Expansion of economic activity and migration, especially since the 1970s, generated ecological stress – particularly with deforestation and burning — and marginalization of indigenous peoples and traditional communities.
The return to democracy of Brazil in the second half of the 1980s, with the adoption of the 1988 Constitution, with a specific chapter on environment led to the adoption of new policies and the creation of new institutions for the conservation and sustainable use of natural resources. This led to efforts by governments (at federal and state levels) to enact policies and programs, as well as to create institutions to control deforestation and combat illegal activities, like land grabbing, biopiracy, illegal logging, and mining. Such activities are today among the main causes for destabilization of the Amazon, together with climate change.
This challenge is not limited to the effect of these illegal activities. Their worst consequences will be felt in the coming years and decades, and become a reality sooner than expected due to the lack of bold actions worldwide to stop GHG emissions, according to the forecasts shown in the recent IPCC report. Extreme events such as floods, storms, rise in temperatures – in a Region that is normally very warm – will certainly provoke tangible changes in other regions of Brazil, including those known as the granary of Brazil, with dire consequences.
The World BioEconomy Forum will be held in Belem, Para State in October. What are your hopes and dreams for the event, and how do you see the discussions affecting the future of the bioeconomy in Brazil?
This will be the first time that the World BioEconomy Forum will take place outside Finland. We expect a broad, multifaceted and pragmatic debate that will contribute to raise awareness on the importance and potential of bioeconomy. We also hope to help establish partnerships in areas like science, technology, business, and investments between business, R&D institutions, and civil society.
We are expecting the presence of a significant number of government officials, experts, academics, businessmen, bankers, scientists, and journalists from around the world, as well as representatives of indigenous people and local communities of the Amazonian Region.
The World Forum on BioEconomy will be an opportunity to highlight the potential of the Amazonian Region as a locus for research projects, technology development and innovation, as well as investments and the integration of the regional economy and its biodiversity into value chains. There are already high expectations that this gathering will strengthen progress towards a sustainable economy and bring social welfare to the region.
The WCBEF will take place at a critical moment for the development of the Amazon and Brazil. We are facing a deep crisis in the Brazilian development process. Overcoming this crisis requires a medium to long-term political view together with political will and strong determination. A region with such wealth and diversity cannot improve social and economic standards without a better understanding of its potential and changing its perception of how the successes and failures of the past and present should be critically evaluated to build the future.
The future of the Amazon is political and cannot be reduced to a promise of a single event. It is the result of a careful and sometimes painful construction that produces a true cultural change. The WCBEF will blow a new wind in the Amazon, opening opportunities for new ideas, for innovative uses of its biodiversity and for ways and means to enhance the inclusion of its population and, therefore, diminish inequalities. It is like a seed that can alter conditions and produce fruits that can be for all.
 Corus,M., Dammer, L., 2018 The “Circular Bioeconomy” – Concepts, Opportunities and Limitations, Hürth 2018-01 Download at www.bio-based eu/nova-papers Access September 1, 2021.