Five Minutes With… Dr. Carlos Nobre

Dr. Carlos Nobre is an eminent climate scientist from Brazil. He obtained a PhD in Meteorology from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) in 1983. Nobre’s work largely focuses on the Amazon and its savannization as a result of climate change. Dr. Carlos Nobre is a Nobel laureate, as well as a member of the Brazilian Academy of Sciences, a foreign member of the National Academy of Sciences, and Senior Scientist, University of São Paulo’s Institute of Advanced Studies.

You have a huge amount of professional experience in relation to the Amazon rain forest.  Can you give us your opinion about the current state of health of the region, and if there are any absolute must-dos that will help preserve forests and help alleviate climate change? 

The Amazon rainforest is very near a tipping point of ‘savannization’ of more than 50% of its area. This is caused by three anthropogenic drivers which interact synergistically: global climate change, deforestation and forest degradation, and increased vulnerability to fires. Observations are revealing that rainforest-climate interactions are rapidly changing. For instance, the dry season over southern Amazon is 3-4 weeks longer today in comparison to the 1980’s. The forests are losing the strength of recycling water year-round and of removing carbon from the atmosphere.

Very worrying are observations that the mortality rate of wet-climate trees is increasing, one more sign that the rainforest is near the tipping point. If the tipping point is exceeded, the large reduction of the rainforest means a total emission of more than 250 billion tons of carbon dioxide, making it much harder to reach the Paris Agreement targets. Therefore, it is urgently needed to bring deforestation rates to zero in less than a decade. At the same time, forest restoration is also an absolute must-do. In addition to reducing the risk of rainforest disappearance, forest restoration is absolutely necessary to mitigate climate change by effective removal of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere.

What are your thoughts on how the circular bioeconomy – with an emphasis on substituting fossil-based products with bio-based options – can be a major help in the alleviation of climate change on a global scale?  Which areas of the circular bioeconomy do you see as having the most potential?  

Needless to say that to meet the Paris Accord targets of 1.5 C we need to reduce global emissions of GHG to net zero by 2050. 70% of global emissions come from fossil fuel. In addition to rapidly moving to renewable energy, we also need to bring use of fossil fuels to zero, that is, quickly introducing bio-based products at global scale. For countries like Brazil, on the other hand, more than 50% of emissions come from deforestation. Therefore, a circular bioeconomy for tropical rainforest countries must find solutions to reduce deforestation to zero. The way to do it is to uncover a variation of circular bioeconomy for tropical countries tapping into the immense biodiversity of the rainforest, a standing forest bioeconomy. There is already a lot of evidence that forest products make for a strong bioeconomy in comparison to removing the forest and replacing with low productivity livestock farming or crops. 

The World BioEconomy Forum is coming to Brazil in October – live from Belém on 18 – 20 October. What are your expectations of the event?

I do believe that the event will be very important to demonstrate the enormous potential of a circular bioeconomy also for tropical countries such as Brazil. This would be fundamental to reduce deforestation rates and the risk of climate change. Also this circular bioeconomy for tropical countries must develop modern technologies for adding value to forest products bringing well-being to local the population.

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