Circular economy initiatives around the world bring us closer to reaching Paris goals

Several commitments to achieve a worldwide circular economy were made on the first day of the two-day high-level World Circular Economy Forum + Climate (WCEF+Climate) in The Hague and online.

The circular economy is a determining factor in achieving climate goals set out in the Paris Agreement. The Netherlands Minister for the Environment, Stientje van Veldhoven, said, “With this summit, we ensured that circularity is seen worldwide as an inextricable part of solving the climate crisis.

Minister Van Veldhoven at WCEF+Climate press conference
Dutch Minister for the Environment Stientje van Veldhoven at a press conference after the first WCEF+Climate sessions on Thursday, 15 April.

The conference was jointly organised by The Netherlands and The Finnish Innovation Fund Sitra. Among the attendees were ministers from dozens of countries, high-level UN representatives and representatives of large companies and start-ups including Accenture, Averda, Circularise, Closing the Loop, Lafarge Holcim, Morgan Stanley, Philips and Rabobank.

“We must decouple economic growth from climate emissions and overconsumption. We need global collaboration, on the path towards autumn and the World Circular Economy Forum 2021 in Toronto, as well as UN’s Climate Change Conference COP26 in Glasgow, as parts of a circular transition towards a low carbon, climate proof economy,” said Jyrki Katainen, President of The Finnish Innovation Fund Sitra. The World Circular Economy Forum (WCEF) is a global initiative of Sitra and Finland, and the next annual forum will be hosted in Canada on 13-15 September this year.

Circularity is an element in the climate goals

The WCEF+Climate clearly demonstrated the worldwide efforts towards a circular economy to reach our climate targets. Without a circular economy, it is difficult to achieve the goals of the Paris Agreement. The smarter use of raw materials, greater reuse of goods and better recycling could account for a 20 percent reduction in CO2 emissions worldwide. It is for this reason that the International Resource Panel, the world’s most eminent scientists in resource management issues, are tasked with producing research and developing ideas on how we can use our resources more efficiently.

Young people have an impact

The We Are Tomorrow Global Partnership, a worldwide youth movement, played an important role at the conference. In the Netherlands, de Jonge Klimaatbeweging (the Dutch youth climate movement) got a seat at the table: they will be involved in policy discussions towards a circular economy in the Netherlands. Chairman Werner Schouten: “We are pleased that young people’s voice worldwide is becoming increasingly important. And in the Netherlands, we see that thousands of young people want to make an active contribution to a circular economy. The fact that we are allowed to participate in discussions with other stakeholders is another important step forward.”

Attendees

The summit was organised by the Netherlands and The Finnish Innovation Fund Sitra. Representatives of the United Nations included Amina Mohammed (Deputy Secretary-General), Inger Andersen (Executive Director, UNEP, the environment programme), Achim Steiner (Administrator, UNDP, the development programme), Li Yong (Director General, UNIDO, industrial development organisation), and Patricia Espinosa (Head of UNFCCC, the Climate Convention and Paris Agreement secretariat). Among the European Commission’s representatives was Frans Timmermans (Executive Vice-President). In more than 20 sessions, dozens of countries and companies pledged to work closer to increase the impact of existing circular initiatives.

A wide range of subjects were discussed at the WCEF+Climate. These included topics such as the importance of changing production and consumption patterns for climate action and in achieving the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs); opportunities for better jobs in recycling electronics and plastics in developing countries; involving young people more in policymaking on issues that will impact their future; and the importance of continuously monitoring progress in the transition to a circular economy, to better target policy and action and to minimise greenwashing. The conference attendees recognise that there is still much to be done, but they also emphasise that joint consultation play a crucial role in catalyzing, upscaling, and accelerating actions.

Circular economy

The Netherlands’s goal is to be completely circular by 2050. The circular economy involves continuously reusing raw materials so that there is no waste. At present in the Netherlands, recyclable waste is still sometimes incinerated, or in extreme cases ends up in the landfill, and the Netherlands aims to eliminate this by 2050. The fact that countries, companies and organisations are in different phases of the transition to a circular economy does not pose a problem. In fact, we need to move towards concrete commitments and setting targets for circular economy, together.

Finland was the first country to create a national roadmap for circular economy. Sitra led this process and compiled a guide for other countries based on what has been learned from Finland’s process. The guide features tools, guidelines and inspiration for countries that want to move towards or are already taking their first steps towards a circular economy.

The World Circular Economy Forum (WCEF) is Finland’s and Sitra’s initiative that examines how businesses can gain a competitive advantage through a circular economy and how the circular economy contributes to achieving the UN Sustainable Development Goals. The next main annual event, WCEF2021, will be held on 13-15 September 2021 in Toronto, Canada.