Five Minutes With… José Carlos Fonseca

José Carlos Fonseca
Ambassador José Carlos da Fonseca Junior is the current Executive Director of IBA (Brazilian Tree Industry), as well as a member of the World BioEconomy Forum Advisory Board. He has also enjoyed a career in diplomacy for over 37 years. In addition to serving as an ambassador in Asia, Africa, North American, and South America, throughout his career José Carlos also has a background in politics in both Legislative and Executive branches. He has served as a member of the Parliament, as the State Secretary of Finance, and as Chief of Staff for the Governor of Espírito Santo State. In Brazil’s Federal Government, he has worked at the Foreign Ministry’s Trade Promotion Department and, twice, at the Ministry of Finance.

Ibá is the major biomass related organisation in Brazil. What is your stance on the circular
bioeconomy?
 

The bioeconomy encompasses the entire value chain that uses biological resources and technological innovations to produce more sustainable products and processes for a circular economy with benefits for society and the environment as a whole. It is a process of change with an integrated vision of the future that shifts from extraction of finite sources to a new form of production combined with sustainability, focused on renewable sources.

The bioeconomy involves high productivity, technology, and innovation. Growth in the bioeconomy helps reduce emissions and reduce environmental impacts. It is one of the best tools we currently have to help fight climate change.

Also note that we are an eco-friendly sector and very concerned about the circular economy; we supply renewable raw materials to manufacture recyclable, renewable, and often biodegradable products — that is, materials that generate less impact and can be plugged back into the production chain. Brazil is one of the countries that recycles the most waste paper; in 2019 it consumed 4.9 million tonnes of this resource, and the paper recycling rate was 66.9%.

Another important facet of the bioeconomy is that we can still use natural resources and knowledge from traditional communities to generate income and wealth. We can
help reduce social inequality by involving family farmers, small rural producers, and traditional peoples and communities in structuring productive systems based on sustainable use of resources through socio-biodiversity and extractivism.
 
Whether through cultivating trees or taking full advantage of the potential of our biodiversity, Brazil has everything it needs to play an active role in caring for nature and driving development for Brazilians. Building an economy that values solutions linked to the bioeconomy can improve quality of life for many people by helping to counteract climate change and generating wealth for the population. For this reason, Brazil must prepare to take on a leading role in this global discussion, since it already is very active in this segment with sustainable agribusiness that includes the planted tree sector; this industry is a global reference, the largest exporter of pulp and the second largest producer of this commodity worldwide.
 

To face this challenge, Brazil needs to stop criminal activities in the Amazon region that include deforestation, fires, land fraud, and illegal mining, and truly implement the Forest Code, which addresses conservation and payment for environmental services. In fact, this
law could become a reference, paving the way for other nations.
 
We also need to fight for a global carbon market. The Ministry of the Economy just completed a four-year study with the World Bank (PMR), but the final recommendations
have not yet been published. It is important that these conclusions be shared in order to advance this discussion and move toward implementing this project (PMI).

 
In just a few decades, Ibá member companies have been growing rapidly and some are now major forest companies on a global scale. Not only growing but also evolving to produce alternatives for fossil-based applications. What do you see currently as the most interesting evolving bio-product sector among your members?
 
In Brazil, forest-based companies have broad R&D with ongoing research and testing that includes new applications and a constant mission to deconstruct wood, in other words, to use 100% of wood. There is also major investment in adding value to what were previously
considered by-products, like lignin, which is used for energy and is now being studied for its potential as “green petroleum.” There are also efforts to find new uses for cellulose and nanocellulose (a super-material for the textile, electronics, civil construction, automotive,
aeronautics, and even food industries). We can also highlight industry partnerships with
startups and other innovative companies to scale up novel projects.
 
But one segment that has already gone through the research phase and is making major advances in industrial investments is solutions for textile fibers. 
 
Viscose, which is made from soluble cellulose, is already present in our clothing: between 2000 and 2018, it went from 4.8% of global market share (2.7 million tonnes/year) to 6.5% (6.9 million tonnes/year). It is expected to reach 7% (8.5 million tonnes/year) by 2023, according to The Fiber Year. 
 
Today, Brazil has two major investments in this versatile soluble cellulose: Bracell, in Lençois Paulista (São Paulo state) with its Star project involving R$ 8 billion, and Duratex, in the Mineiro Triangle region (Minas Gerais) has LD Cellulose, a joint venture with the Austrian company Lenzing involving US$ 1 billion.
 
Suzano and Spinova have also announced investments estimated at 22 million Euros to build the first industrial-scale unit to manufacture microfibrillated cellulose for fabric, which requires less water and chemicals.
 
What are your expectations for the coming World BioEconomy Forum to be held in Brazil this year?
 
To show the world that Brazil has the potential to take a leading role in the bioeconomy agenda and bring these issues closer to Brazilians.

Brazil has 12% of the world’s fresh water, the largest tropical forest, and the greatest biodiversity on the planet. We have agribusiness with sustainable players, linked to the ESG criteria. Moreover, the planted forest sector is directly descended from the bioeconomy; for years we have invested in technology, innovation, and sustainability for a low-carbon economy. We want to engage actors from other sectors in constructing an economy that values the bioeconomy, since we believe this is the best path for economic recovery and for generating wealth for the population and improving quality of life.
 
In the Brazilian Amazon region alone, which is home to the planet’s greatest biodiversity, 25 million of our brothers and sisters live far below the poverty line and lack infrastructure, such as sanitation and communication. We need to change this scenario and appreciate all the potential that the forest can offer.

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