Elspeth MacRae delivering her keynote speech. Photo: Gerda Wolfrum, IUFRO Headquarters

Elspeth MacRae delivering her keynote speech. Photo: Gerda Wolfrum, IUFRO Headquarters

Keynote speech by Elspeth MacRae, Scion, New Zealand

Read an interview with Dr. MacRae at: http://blog.iufro.org/2016/09/01/interview-with-dr-elspeth-macrae-scion-new-zealand/

Find biographic information at: http://www.iufro.org/events/congresses-regional/#c25751

The future holds tremendous challenges for the world with the increase in population probably being the largest one. As a consequence, we expect a need for a 70% increase in the amount of food available by 2050. The demographic changes and new lifestyles will put a growing pressure on the natural resources, exacerbate the effects of climate change, deplete soils and make water a scarce commodity, among other things.

Against this scenario only few people are aware of the fact that an increase in wood fibre of more than 300% will also be necessary by 2050. Wood fibre will be crucial to cater for the needs of a growing bioeconomy and for achieving the positive effects on climate change expected from substituting fossil fuels by renewables. This development will be a great challenge for plantation forests as the preferred main source of fibre.

Eucalypt plantation in Vietnam. Photo: Geoff Roberts

Eucalypt plantation in Vietnam. Photo: Geoff Roberts

Bioeconomy refers to the production of renewable biological resources and their conversion into food, feed, bio-based products and bioenergy. Future forests will be used as a source for a broad array of products and services ranging from traditional goods such as timber or pulp and paper, to ecosystem services, and novel products including electronics, fertilizers, fine chemicals, biocomposites and many others.

Trees are incredible chemical resources as they deliver high-performance raw materials such as starch or lignocellulosis. Some of the most common biopolymers, for example, are yielded from trees. The bioeconomy and the development of biorefineries are now driving new applications such as bioenergy and new kinds of bioproducts, both substitutes for petrochemical products, and innovative products with new attributes, for which new value chains still need to be created.

Biotechnology offers a way of meeting the increasing demand of renewable products in the future. However, the limitation on the application of these technologies is national legislation and market responses, including uptake of biotechnological solutions.