Circular economy strategies

We are all familiar with the ESG goals and the challenges we face with respect to us of resources and below we highlight a recent article on the topic as we prepare Platforum 9 Forums of lawyers discussing the legal aspects of the issue.

The global economy is consuming 100 billion tonnes of materials a year for the first time ever but reuse of resources has gone into reverse, reveals a report from impact organisation Circle Economy launched at Davos.

The Circularity Gap Report 2020 finds that the world’s economy is now only 8.6% circular – of all the minerals, fossil fuels, metals and biomass that enter it each year just 8.6% are reused. This has fallen from 9.1% from the previous two years.

Marc de Wit, lead author, said: “This report shows that no country is meeting the basic needs of its citizens while also operating within the physical boundaries of our planet. We are all developing countries, we all need to get to an ecologically safe and socially just future, but there are different pathways according to the type of challenges we face.”

The report finds that total resources entering the global economy have increased by 8.4% in just two years from 92.8 billion tonnes in 2015 to 100.6 billion tonnes in 2017

A number of major international businesses, charities and NGOs have expressed their support for the report, including the government of Chile, WWF, Philips and the UN Environment Programme International Resource Panel [Full quotes and further endorsements available in appendix].

Cristianne Close, leader at WWF Markets Practice, said: “Our current economic and financial systems are driving unsustainable consumption and degrading the natural environment. The circular economy provides a tangible framework for reducing our impacts, protecting ecosystems and living within the means of one planet.”

Frans van Houten, CEO at Royal Philips, said: “Countries, cities and businesses can step up as change agents to accelerate circularity locally and globally. But, governments and businesses alike must engage in far-reaching, cross-border collaborations for circular value chains and climate neutrality.”

The report highlights positive trends and circular solutions already being adopted around the world:

  • 13 European countries have adopted national circular roadmaps[3] and in 2019 Colombia became the first Latin American country to launch a similar policy.
  • China’s ban on waste imports aims to encourage domestic recycling, but it has also stimulated the development of circular economy strategies in Australia and other countries which previously exported their waste there.
  • Cities, communities and entrepreneurs are developing bottom-up solutions all over the world, from land reclamation supporting 2.5 million people in Niger, to a digital solution that empowers informal rubbish collectors in Brazil, and a modular phone with replaceable parts in the Netherlands.

Global use of materials has nearly quadrupled in 50 years, from just 26.7 billion tonnes in 1970, and it is forecast to rise to between 170 and 184 billion tonnes by 2050.[4] There are three underlying reasons for this negative trend, all hardwired into the dominant “take-make-waste” economic model.

  1. We rely on extracting virgin materials to fuel growth rather than making better use of existing resources. For every tonne of resources that is reused, more than 10 are extracted.
  2. We are adding more materials to meet the needs of a growing global population, building up our stock of housing, infrastructure and heavy machinery. Nearly half the materials that enter the economy are used in these long-term products.
  3. Most products are not designed to be reused and there are limited facilities for reprocessing materials at the end of their life. Global recycling rates are improving and delivering higher quality materials, but this is far from sufficient to feed our hungry economy.

National governments are key to shifting from a linear to a circular economy. It calls on them to collaborate on circular strategies to measure and improve resource efficiency, to translate global trends into national roadmaps, and to work with businesses, NGOs and academics to drive action.

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