This is a press release you probably missed. On December 17th, the EU issued a press statement confirming its commitment to transition towards a circular economy:
“In a world with growing pressures on resources and the environment, the EU has no choice but to go for the transition to a resource-efficient and ultimately regenerative circular economy.”
Resource efficiency isn’t new to the EU, and over the past decade this topic has gained strength and attention in discussion and debate. Europe 2020 is the EU’s growth strategy for the following decade, building on lessons learned from its predecessor the Lisbon Strategy. EU 2020 focusses on helping its members states to build “smart, sustainable and inclusive economies”. This strategy has produced other key documents, such as the The Road to a Resource Efficient Europe.
However, UK residents will know that the politics of climate change are complicated and convoluted at a national level, let alone a continental level. It remains to be seen how the Manifesto for a Resource Efficient Europe will be implemented and how member states will react.
Elsewhere in the world
Currently, China is the only other country to have integrated the transition to a more circular economy in its economic development strategy. China has seized the opportunity to tackle economic instability, use of natural resources and environmental degradation through a systemic “root-and-branch” restructuring of its economy, becoming the world’s first country to adopt closed-loop economic principles (Mathews et al. 2011). Historically, China’s growth has been driven by abundant and cheap resources, which is likely to change (ibid.). Therefore the objective is to shift to a new growth model, namely one that maximises GDP, and protects natural resources to maintain long-term economic stability (Zhijun & Nailing, 2007).
Announced in its 12th Five Year Plan, China’s strategy seeks to solve both the waste and resource issues at source and to “minimise the throughputs of both energy and materials” (Zhijun & Nailing, 2007). The Chinese government has begun with implementing the Circular Economy at an Industrial level, having approved the development of 30 Eco-Industrial Parks based on circular economy principles.
Having carried out my MSc thesis research on the opportunity for a circular economy in Brazil, I was startled to find little research having been carried out on resource efficiency in the Brazilian economy. The truth is that Brazil benefits from vast material, labour and land resources, rendering the concept of scarcity not a priority.
However, the Brazilian government recently launched the National Action Plan on Sustainable Production and Consumption (PPCS).
The PPCS aims to take a systems-based view, acting as a central link between seven other government action plans, the UNEP and international conventions, agreements and environmental bodies to advance sustainable production and consumption.
Key priorities include:
- Education for sustainable consumption
- Sustainable public procurement
- Embedding the environmental agenda into public policy
- Increasing solid waste recycling
- Sustainable retail
- Sustainable built environment
A radical strategy?
However, in terms of a more radical shift to sustainable production, the Brazilian PPCS fails to acknowledge the need to close the loop on material and energy throughput, and the need for changing production cycles is left by the wayside. Objectives for use of renewable energy and water efficiency are related to either retail shops or construction only, rather than production. What’s more, innovation for sustainable production is barely cited, which is key to shifting Brazilian industry to greener and cleaner production.
Every strategy ever produced has always fallen short of something, depending on one’s point of view. However, all three strategies cited here recognise the need for more sustainable economic, production and consumption models. It remains to be seen whether economies choose to adopt a protectionist agenda in the face of commodity price rises, or choose to collaborate to share resources and achieve greater resource and energy efficiency along supply chains.