SEARCH

Opinion » Interview

Updated: January 9, 2011 23:50 IST

‘India, Brazil could lead the way in the bioindustries model'

Comment   ·   print   ·   T  T  
CARLOS NOBRE: 'Eventually we will have to declare an end to the fossil era... We have to move steadily and quickly to the many, plentiful forms of renewable energy.' Photo courtesy: International Institute for Sustainable Development
International Institute for Sustainable Development
CARLOS NOBRE: 'Eventually we will have to declare an end to the fossil era... We have to move steadily and quickly to the many, plentiful forms of renewable energy.' Photo courtesy: International Institute for Sustainable Development

Interview with Dr. Carlos Nobre, climate scientist.

Dr. Carlos Nobre is one of Brazil's best known climate scientists. He is the Director of the Center for Earth System Science and Senior Scientist at the National Institute for Space Research (INPE) of Brazil, Executive Secretary of the Brazilian Research Network on Global Climate Change (Rede CLIMA), Scientific Director of the National Institute for Climate Change Research, and Chair of the International Geosphere-Biosphere Programme (IGBP). Nobre's work focuses on the Amazon and its impacts on the Earth system.

He chaired the Large Scale Biosphere-Atmosphere Experiment in Amazonia (LBA), an international research initiative led by Brazil from 1996 through 2002. LBA is designed to create the new knowledge needed to understand the climatological, ecological, bio-geochemical, and hydrological functioning of Amazonia, the impact of land use change on these functions, and the interactions between Amazonia and the Earth system.

Dr. Nobre is also a member of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) and a well-known public figure who has been advocating new ways of reducing deforestation by focusing on the value of forest products, led by developing nations like Brazil and India. Dionne Bunsha spoke to Dr. Nobre about his vision for change.

One of the major concerns while thinking about global warming is the deforestation of the Amazon. What do you think should be done to reduce deforestation?

I have been proposing a new model of perpetual economic uses of tropical biodiversity, based on ‘bioindustries'. India and Brazil are two tropical countries that could lead in this new model. It's not a pure, traditional, agricultural expansion model. We must find new uses for forest products — food, pharmaceuticals, cosmetics. There can be niche markets for each product. But if you multiply that by 100, 200 or 1,000 new products, you can generate an economy that would be much larger than the current economy based on cattle and soybean, for instance, like in the Amazon. So, the idea is to develop a new series of bioindustries and local products that are not extractive like forest timber, and then add value. Adding value is where the money is and where the good jobs are. It has to be done locally, at least part of the processing of this product has to be local.

The other aspect is renewable energy. Eventually we will have to declare an end to the fossil era, even though international negotiations are stalling, but still there is no way out. We have to move steadily and quickly to the many, plentiful forms of renewable energy.

And, the third element is valuing ecosystem services. Eventually, we will have to change the economic system in order to insert fully the value of ecosystem services like water, carbon, and pollination. Valuing ecosystem services is a profound transformation of economic thinking that has to penetrate very deeply.

So those are the three pillars — bioindustries, renewable energy and ecosystem services.

How do you think Brazil and India could develop this new model?

India and Brazil could lead this new model because developing bio industries and new uses of biodiversity has to be done through science and technology. India and Brazil are the tropical countries that have good universities and R&D facilities that are increasing very rapidly. However, the scientific communities in our countries have to see these possibilities. They still don't see it. Our countries are not inclined to take much risk. Brazilian and Indian economies are averse to risk. Venture capital is not very strong.

In India, the Indian Institute of Technology, which is a fantastic system, should be more attuned to these new things. Their research agenda is very much the traditional agenda, for instance, the focus on software development, which is terrific. In Brazil, the university system is strong, some of our universities are among the top 200 universities in the world. However, to develop bio industries, they need to have a new vision.

Bio industries would be a unique tropical model. The industrialised world has different problems and they are not going to develop things for tropical nations, so we have to do it on our own. That is how a country can really reach a mature stage of development — you invent your own. Yes, you can copy everything that works. But you have to have the capability to invent, create, innovate.

These ideas are more mature conceptually in Brazil than in India. I was in India for a meeting recently and had the opportunities to discuss these ideas at the Brazil-India Science Council. This council is set up due to the India-Brazil Cooperative Agreement, a bilateral agreement between the two countries aimed at promoting exchange of scientists and joint implementation of research projects in areas previously agreed upon. So far, research areas contemplated are: Mathematics, Physics, Nanotechnology, Computer Sciences, Biomedicine and Drugs, Oceanography and Bioenergy.

What are the likely effects of climate change in the Amazon, and what would that mean to the rest of the world?

By and large, the scenarios are showing a very dramatic picture.

The very optimistic scenarios show a small change, perhaps large portions becoming more seasonal forests, like the dry, seasonal forests you have in India. The rainforests would not be able to survive.

Pessimistic scenarios, that predict a temperature change of 4° to 5° C, show a more catastrophic change. Between 30-60 per cent of the rainforest could turn into an impoverished tropical savannah, but not so biodiverse. There will be huge biodiversity loss, between 20 to 50 per cent species lost. There is still large uncertainty in these scenarios, but they predict a very bleak picture for the Amazon entering into the 22nd century.

The Amazonia is the largest contiguous tropical forest in the planet with over six million km{+2}, 18 per cent of freshwater input into the global oceans; it harbours up to 15 per cent of the planet's land biodiversity. It is a large reservoir of carbon in the biomass, estimated at up to 120 Gigaton C; a heat source for the atmosphere, that is, an area where solar heating of the surface is transferred to higher levels in the troposphere by evaporation at the surface and condensation in the clouds.

In sum, the Amazon is a key regional entity of the stability of the Earth system. Global warming of more than 4°C could cause “savannisation” of many parts of the Amazon forest, that is, forest die-back mostly over eastern, southern and south-eastern Amazon and replacement by a type of impoverished tropical savanna. That would release an additional 30 to 50 Gton C into the atmosphere, that is equivalent to three to five years' worth of global emissions of CO{-2}. Furthermore, a likely decrease of basin-wide rainfall would decrease freshwater and sediment and chemical species input into the Atlantic Ocean, changing currents and nutrient balances over the western tropical Atlantic Ocean. Another impact of decreased rainfall would be a weakening of the atmospheric heat source over the Amazon. That weakening would translate into changes in tropical atmospheric circulation affecting distant regions, although it is not possible as yet to predict precisely what and where those changes would hit hardest.

More In: Interview | Opinion
This article is closed for comments.
Please Email the Editor


O
P
E
N

close

Recent Article in Interview

Manohar Parrikar in his office on Monday. Photo: Shanker Chakravarty

'I am the Defence Minister, and my concern is India's defence'

Says current arrangement is inadequate, and integration of forces is needed. »