A climate action roadmap for sustainable sugarcane

02/22/2022
A climate action roadmap for sustainable sugarcane

I’ve been promoting sustainability in the Brazilian sugarcane sector for more than six years. First in the Environment, Health, Safety & Sustainability areas of Raízen and Biosev, and for the last 3 years as Bonsucro’s Country Manager in Brazil. Last year I had the opportunity to go to COP26 in Glasgow – over my years working in sustainability, the climate risks for the planet have never been so clear. However, I can see sustainable sugarcane production and processing can play a crucial role towards a low carbon economy.

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), the world’s leading international scientific authority on climate change, is about to release its new climate report – and it is already known that it should be one of the most ambitious reports in history.

How can sugarcane help to decarbonise the world?

Sugarcane is a great source of renewable energy in the form of bioethanol, biogas, biomass and as a raw material for bioplastics and biomaterials.

As a clean, affordable, and low-carbon biofuel, sugarcane ethanol has emerged as a leading renewable fuel for the transportation sector. Ethanol contributes to decarbonising transport when it is used in its pure form, or when it’s blended with gasoline. Ethanol produces up to 90% less greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions compared to fossil fuels, performing better than any other liquid biofuel produced today on a commercial scale.

As an example, sugarcane ethanol has been a mainstream fuel in Brazil since the 70’s and replaced over 3.20 billion barrels of gasoline between 1975 and 2020. Other countries such as China and India are establishing ethanol mandates towards a cleaner energy matrix for transport.

We give a bigger picture on the relation between sugarcane and climate in the climate action section of our website.

But wait!  It’s not all sugarcane, it’s sugarcane that is sustainably produced and processed.

The Bonsucro Production Standard lays out the best farming and milling practices. It has just been revised with new requirements to address critical global risks such as greenhouse gas emissions, water, biodiversity, and respect for workers’ rights in the sector.

Using the Standard, the sugarcane sector can effectively decarbonise and promote climate justice. Our Production Standard provides a clear sector pathway towards a low-carbon sugarcane business through its five principles.

Certification data demonstrates that certified mills reduce GHG emissions by 5.5% after just one year of certification. The new Standard builds on this success and has strengthened its greenhouse gas calculation methodology, which will reveal where emissions are highest and enable producers to take action to reduce them. This also creates more opportunities for collaboration across the supply chain.

We have strengthened our standards on deforestation. Whereas previously certified producers needed to guarantee zero deforestation in legally protected areas, this pledge has now been extended to all natural ecosystems, regardless of legal status.

Bonsucro certification scheme continues to require that all certified operators are audited annually by an accredited third-party certification body: this is an effective mechanism to ensure that operators maintain robust management systems and keep complying with our standard’s indicators.

Scientific models indicate that global adoption of the Bonsucro Standard would reduce GHG emissions by 50%, reduce water use by 65% and nutrient loading by 34%. Although we know that universal Bonsucro certification may not be achievable, this data provides key insights for an effective roadmap to reduce environmental impact with the Bonsucro Standard.

Sustainable sugarcane is one of the many solutions to decarbonise the world. COP27 will take place in November in Egypt and there is a lot of work to be done before the meeting takes place.

There is no doubt that the path ahead is going to be very challenging, and a huge amount of work needs to be done rapidly. I am motivated to work with all the links of the sugarcane value chain and to come together as a strong sector that leads towards a low-carbon world. I believe Bonsucro will play a crucial role in making that happen and I am looking forward to driving innovative projects.

Livia Ignácio
Livia Ignácio

Livia is the Country Manager in Brazil of Bonsucro, the leading global sustainability platform and standard for sugarcane that brings together more than 280 organisations and has more than 140 certified sugarcane mills worldwide.