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Publication: Growing the circular bioeconomy, with a focus on the Global South

The Center for Study of Science, Technology and Policy (CSTEP), a research-based think tank, in collaboration with the International Council for Circular Economy (ICCE), published a White Paper titled “Growing the circular bioeconomy, with a focus on the Global South” and presented the findings at WCEF2024.

The White Paper, which was released during the session “Unveiling bio-based solutions from the Global South” calls for concerted action in the Global South to optimise the use of resources from agriculture, forestry and other biological sources to store carbon, increase climate resilience, safeguard nature, and grow local economies. By using agro-wastes, food wastes, sewage sludge and high-potential products such as hemp and innovating plant-based proteins, several goals for achieving a circular and regenerative bioeconomy can be accomplished in tandem.

Dr Anjali Taneja, Senior Policy Specialist at CSTEP states:

“Countries in the Global South struggle with poverty alleviation through income generation while implementing measures to decarbonise various sectors, address air pollution and ensure climate resilience. In this regard, a circular bioeconomy provides a wide range of opportunities. For example, through the use of rice straw for producing bricks and other purposes, we can achieve multiple wins including decarbonisation and reduction of the terrible levels of air pollution we face each winter in India.”

The World Business Council for Sustainable Development (WBCSD) estimates a global economic opportunity of bio-based products for food, food waste products, pharma, textiles, and building materials to the tune of USD 7.7 trillion by 2030. The Centre for International Forestry Research and World Agroforestry (CIFOR-ICRAF) also indicates economic opportunities of approximately USD 3.5 trillion with the potential to generate nearly 87 million jobs.

As per the India Bioeconomy Report (2023), the bioeconomy market in India at present is worth approximately USD 137 billion and may increase in value up to USD 300 billion by 2030. Multiple measures, such as exploring waste-to-energy technologies and biofuels, devising an agro-forestry plan and harnessing bamboo wealth, have been undertaken by different government departments to promote a circular and regenerative bioeconomy. India played an integral role in establishing the Global Biofuel Alliance, a multi-stakeholder alliance aimed at increasing sustainable biofuel use.

The paper highlights that inter-departmental collaborations, stakeholder forums, financing avenues for start-up projects, and a data repository of inputs and outputs are needed to accomplish the target potential.

The study emphasises that this transformative shift marks a significant transition from dependency on fossil fuels to bio-based materials and resources and can be achieved through the following four building blocks:

  • Research and development (including product and material development as well as evidence of impact)
  • Skills and social attitudes (affirming the importance of appreciating both advanced skills and indigenous knowledge and artisan skills)
  • Partnership and collaboration (spanning across governments, various sectors, and regions)
  • Policy support (addressing externalities and supporting consumer purchasing of products)

The paper also provides a road map with a step-by-step plan for an effective bioeconomy implementation by gathering evidence, strategising and prioritising, acting and embedding, and monitoring and review. It has been published to stimulate further research and pilots and promote investment and policy support to enable change.

Dr Jai Asundi, Executive Director, CSTEP, notes that these findings can help in making the transformational shift from the existing linear practices to a more circular bioeconomic future.