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From Spain’s advisor at the UN to living off the ‘green gold’ that pandas eat


Borja de la Pea is 32 years old and is responsible for global policies of the International Organization for Bamboo and Mouse (INBAR), based in Beijing. “Bamboo is the present and future of sustainable development,” he explains.

He got the nickname “bamboo boy” Josep Borrell when Borja de la Pea He left the UN headquarters in New York to go to China to go on an adventure with a herb that is much more than the food of pandas. That was four years ago.

– How does a political adviser from Spain and the UN Security Council, used to analyzing the humanitarian corridors that can be created in war zones, end up working in an organization dedicated to bamboo?

– I have always been interested in all questions about how combat climate change. Bamboo is the present and future of sustainable development. It is an herb that is used for construction, to restore degraded lands or to make charcoal. It provides a continuous source of fuel and can sequester carbon at a higher rate than many fast-growing tree species.

Borja de la Pea is 32 years old, born in Barcelona, ​​but raised in Madrid, studied International Relations and Political Science at the University of Oxford, and is now responsible for the global policies of the city. International Organization for Bamb and Mouse (INBAR).

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It is an intergovernmental development organization created in 1997 to help countries integrate bamboo into their national sustainable development plans. It currently has 47 member states, the headquarters are in Beijing, with regional offices in Cameroon, Ethiopia, Ghana and India.

“We are an entity that teaches governments to strengthen the bamboo industry and promote its use to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals: eradicate poverty, provide access to sustainable housing and protect and restore terrestrial ecosystems”, summarizes Borja.

Worldwide there are about 50 million hectares of bamboo, which has 1,642 species. In one month, the bamboo grows 25 meters. In three years, the plantation is already mature. Being a grass – not a tree – the bamboo is cut down and grows back. No need to replant.

According to IRIBAR data, in 60 years, bamboo can capture more than 300 tons of carbon dioxide and release up to 35% more oxygen to the environment than other trees and plants. Its world market amounts to 60,000 million dollars. Half of the production moves only in China, which dominates the export markets for bamboo and represents more than 60% of the trade. The Asian giant employs 10 million people in the sector.

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To the north of Beijing is the headquarters of the organization where Borja works. The INBAR building has a bamboo museum where there are bicycles, tables, chairs, models of houses … The biomass of this plant can also be used directly as wood, transformed into charcoal for cooking or heating, or converted into gas to generate thermal energy. “Bamboo can provide a continuous source of fuel. Its use for cooking and heating can reduce pressure on other forest resources, preventing deforestation of forests,” reads an explanatory poster at the organization’s headquarters.

“Few people know that, for example, the roof of Terminal T4 at Barajas Airport is covered by two million square meters of bamboo. Spain is not a member country of INBAR, but the Spanish Agency for International Development Cooperation has contributed more than a million dollars for sustainable development projects with bamboo in Latin America, such as the construction of schools in Manab (Ecuador) “, details Borja.

These houses have the peculiarity that they are earthquake resistant, since the bamboo will hold seismic because it is flexible but does not cut. It is also being used to hold the soil and regulate the flow of water. “These projects are mechanisms to promote a green economy, improve the regulation of water sources, reduce carbon emissions and strengthen the fight against climate change,” adds the Spaniard.

In the Philippines, for example, an engineer named Earl Forlales started a project three years ago to build houses low cost of bamboo in Manila that cost 66 euros per square meter, aimed at poor families living in overcrowded neighborhoods. “This project is a simple solution to an urgent problem. Not only for Manila, but it can be extrapolated to other cities that also suffer from overpopulation and poverty in Asia, Latin America or Africa, where bamboo is grown,” Forlales explained in an interview. with the EFE Agency.

A couple of months ago, in Brussels, Ursula von der Leyen, President of the European Commission, spoke of the importance of using natural materials such as bamboo in construction. “It is estimated that due to the impacts of Covid-19, 83 million people in the region of Latin America and the Caribbean will live in conditions of extreme poverty. In the midst of this harsh reality, bamboo is constituted as a natural resource that activates the economy by generating income, jobs and livelihoods, “says Borja.

“China has restored with its bamboo, which has become a large industry, more than three million hectares of degraded land. In addition, it uses it as a great carbon sink. There is no reason why other countries cannot do the same. Latin America has a third of the world’s bamboo coverage, but its resources are not being used to their full potential, “continues the Spaniard.

At the end of last year, INBAR signed a collaboration agreement with the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), which includes, among other aspects, promoting bamboo in agricultural management and in the restoration of biodiversity.

The defenders of this herb as a sustainable material assure that, since they began in 1998 national logging bans From selected forests, bamboo has entered many markets traditionally dominated by wood. “People also do not know that in Ikea many of the materials that are sold are made with bamboo,” says Borja. “It is playing a crucial role in reducing pressure on forests and providing a sustainable alternative to wood for commercial purposes.”

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