26 Jun 2011
A Global Stakeholder Survey on the Potential of Biotechnology to Address the Challenges of Global Climate Change
Philipp Aerni presents at the "15th ICABR Annual Conference on Sustainability and the Bioeconomy", organized by the International Consortium on Applied Bioeconomy Research (ICABR), Rome, Italy.
In 2009, the US National Research Council released a seminal report called ‘A New Biology for the 21st century’. The report argues that modern biotechnology is transforming agriculture and industry on a global scale and thus facilitating a shift from a petrochemical-based economy towards a cleaner bio-based economy. This transformation will massively contribute to a reduction of CO2 Emissions and, at the same time, enable countries that are most affected by climate change to successfully adapt in agriculture and environmental management. Yet, surprisingly, modern biotechnology continues to be a marginal issue in international conferences on climate change and hardly any Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) initiative includes the use of biotechnology to combat climate change. At the same time, national governments continue to ban the use of GM crops in agriculture. In our research we investigate possible reasons for these inconsistencies by analyzing the public debate on climate change from a political economy point of view. For that purpose we conducted a global online stakeholder survey on biotechnology and climate change. The aim of the survey was to identify dominant stakeholder perception patterns about: the potential of GM crops with regard to climate change adaptation and mitigation in agriculture; the use of biotechnology for the production of renewable energy (first, second, third generation biofuel); GM enzymes to substitute petrochemical products; and the potential of different biotechnology tools (mutagenesis, synthetic biology, iRNA, molecular breeding). In addition, we conducted a policy network analysis aimed at identifying the influence of the different stakeholders in the biotechnology debate, the climate change debate, and on public opinion formation in general. 59 expert stakeholders from academia (17), gobal business (13), highly relevant government institutions (4), international organisations (10) and NGOs (12) completed the survey (>90% response rate). A preliminary analysis shows that the stakeholders tend to have a favorable view about the use of biotechnology to address climate change problems. They see the biggest potential in climate change adaptation in agriculture. Moreover the potential of second-generation biofuels and GM enzymes was assessed to be very high. Most of the stakeholders agreed that all technologies are needed to combat climate change. Even though NGOs had a positive view, on average, those NGOs that were assessed to have the largest influence in the biotech and the climate change debate and were considered most relevant in the formation of public opinion expressed a highly critical view.