- Biotechnology provides powerful solutions to many of today’s climate, health and sustainability challenges, but implementing them comes with its own set of issues.
- Transformative biosolutions face long approval processes before they can be released on the market, making the development of new and more sustainable products less attractive.
- Legislators, regulators and industry must partner to adopt a new generation of biotech solutions, while business leaders and governments must collaborate.
We live in a dynamic and rapidly changing world. There are many challenges to solve – feeding growing populations, mitigating climate change and getting more out of our shared resources. The war in Ukraine and subsequent shortage of wheat, corn and fertilizer ingredients have made the severity of these challenges even more evident, affecting the supply of food and energy on a global scale. Now more than ever, we need answers to the world’s climate, health and sustainability challenges.
Biotechnology can provide powerful biosolutions to address these issues. Imagine if we could replace the use of harmful chemicals for crop protection in our food production with biological alternatives that do not harm biodiversity. Or if we could use biology to reduce the levels of CO2 in the atmosphere and turn it into valuable raw materials to reduce the industry’s reliance on fossil fuels. Or if alternative proteins could replace animal proteins, significantly reducing climate impact and land use.
Yet, implementing these solutions comes with its own set of issues. Regulatory frameworks and approval processes need to catch up with the new biological possibilities – and we are in a hurry.
Transformative biosolutions: mitigating climate change
While the technology to achieve and realize these critical benefits exists, transformative biosolutions face long approval processes before they can be released on the market. As a result, developing new and more sustainable products becomes less attractive. For example, biobased solutions, like those enabling sustainable crop cultivation, currently take approximately seven years to be approved under the current EU system, while it only takes approximately two years in the US. To incentivize the shift, we need fast-track approval processes for biosolutions that contribute to the green transformation.
The global biotech industry is committed to accelerating the journey toward climate-neutrality and, today, tremendous strides are being made towards harnessing the powers of biology to create sustainable solutions.
In the crop protection industry, companies are working towards replacing chemical insecticides and fossil-based pesticides with biological components such as microorganisms and naturally occurring peptides. The building industry is producing bio-cement, with microorganisms as a key ingredient, to create a more sustainable alternative to traditional cement production. And companies are looking to transform food systems with plant-based solutions using fermented proteins and microorganisms. Although these new biosolutions, along with other biology-based solutions, seem very promising, the development and implementation of these new solutions must be accelerated if they are to have an impact in the near future.
Two billion people in the world currently suffer from malnutrition and according to some estimates, we need 60% more food to feed the global population by 2050. Yet the agricultural sector is ill-equipped to meet this demand: 700 million of its workers currently live in poverty, and it is already responsible for 70% of the world’s water consumption and 30% of global greenhouse gas emissions.
New technologies could help our food systems become more sustainable and efficient, but unfortunately the agricultural sector has fallen behind other sectors in terms of technology adoption.
Launched in 2018, the Forum’s Innovation with a Purpose Platform is a large-scale partnership that facilitates the adoption of new technologies and other innovations to transform the way we produce, distribute and consume our food.
With research, increasing investments in new agriculture technologies and the integration of local and regional initiatives aimed at enhancing food security, the platform is working with over 50 partner institutions and 1,000 leaders around the world to leverage emerging technologies to make our food systems more sustainable, inclusive and efficient.
At the Novo Nordisk Foundation and our investment company, Novo Holdings, we have embarked on a journey to make biotechnology a spearhead for the green transformation of industry and agriculture. We do so by supporting the entire value chain of innovation, from scientific research to the commercialization of novel solutions and products.
One example of how the Foundation contributes to reaching this ambitious goal is the establishment of the Novo Nordisk Foundation CO2 Research Center — the world’s first interdisciplinary and international research centre dedicated to developing knowledge and technology for CO2 capture and recycling.
At Novozymes, we bring technology into action through our biosolutions, such as enzymes, microorganisms, advanced protein and yeast, which are used in more than 30 different industries. In the transport sector alone, Novozymes’ technologies contribute to avoiding almost 50 million tons of CO2 by enabling low carbon solutions. But the potential is much bigger than that. And we have the solutions to address these needs across the board.
Science and biotechnology are among the most important drivers of the sustainable transformation of our societies. For the transformation to happen, legislators/regulators and the industry need to work in partnership to adapt to a new generation of biosolutions. Business and governments must be ambitious and work together to find the best solutions for our shared future.
Together – science, technology, business, and government – we are stronger, faster, and more successful.