· towards a circular economy? ·
While the year 2020 has turned our habits upside down, 2021 is shaping up to be a turning point and some governments have understood this. Recovery policies are gradually being defined and there is a renewed interest in circularity. So, fact or fiction?
In this article we present the latest political decisions in favor of the circular economy and analyze the real impact of these new practices in our daily lives.
Adopting a circular economy
This year, we can identify several action plans in favor of the circular economy. Indeed, Europe with Luxembourg, Japan and China are taking strong measures to participate in the regeneration of ecosystems.
10 years. This is the time that Europe have given itself, on February 9th, to reach the new objectives of reducing the environmental footprint of products on its market within the framework of the Circular Economy Plan. From the development of eco-design to the avoidance of programmed obsolescence, the aim is to improve the durability and repairability of products. Seven key sectors are mainly concerned by the measures: the plastics and textile industry, electronic waste, food, water and nutrients, packaging, batteries and vehicles and finally buildings and construction.
Luxembourg did not wait for the new European measures to begin its transformation. We can say that the Luxembourg authorities have unveiled their new strategy for a circular country with a head start. In proportion to its size, the country has a relatively large ecological footprint. Yet Luxembourg seems to have found the solution: implementing the seven pillars of the circular economy. Qualifying itself as a “test platform”, the results are not guaranteed, but one thing is for sure: practices will change.
There is also a turning point within the Asian continent. As part of its Circular Economy Week, Japan is organizing a roundtable discussion to be held at the World Economic Forum. This promising new partnership will undoubtedly accelerate circularity and lead to strong decisions in the years to come. The Middle Kingdom is announcing international collaborations in the field of energy efficiency and green energy. Indeed, in its circular of 22 February, the Chinese State Council aims to adopt measures to build a greener, decarbonised and circular economic system. The first deadline is 2025; the industry, energy and transport sectors will be subject to major changes. China should thus complete its metamorphosis and implement its new practices in 2035.
There is therefore a real dynamic emerging for the world’s major powers, and let’s hope that the results will be equal to the promised efforts.
Some flaws remain in the systems
Awareness is growing and policies are changing, but behind these official commitments, are there any real actions?
We often hear criticism of the European government for its slow administrative procedures. Actions are slow to be put in place and decisions are debated between member states. The objectives are there, the measures are taken, but what about the actions? The European Commission, a supranational political force, leads and guides the policies of the member states: this is what is called a “top-down” system. This limits the flexibility of the states, who find it difficult to assert themselves and take initiatives. Conversely, despite four years under the Trump administration and the withdrawal from the Paris Agreement, the Americans have continued to take action in favor of the climate. Reflecting this dynamic, the “America’s pledge” coalition, created in 2017, quantifies the actions of US non-state actors to reduce their GHG emissions in order to comply with the Paris Agreement. Finally, a multitude of movements from states, cities, companies or other committed actors have emerged. According to the Accelerating America’s Pledge report produced by the University of Maryland and the Rocky Mountain Institute, 65% of Americans are engaged in such coalitions. This “bottom-up” strategy uses the ascendant leadership provided by the significant power given to the states.
The point here is not to extol the virtues of a perfect American system. What is important is the Butterfly Effect that it allows. We must realise that nothing is better than collective initiatives from the field and concrete actions on a daily basis.
In the end, the question is not: “What are we waiting for to act? “but “who are we waiting for? “. As the hummingbird legend says so well: it is up to each of us to do our part.
Little green pioneers
While the great powers are dominating the headlines with the publication of new measures to change behavior, some governments have been working quietly for several years now. In countries wishing to adopt a sustainable economy, there are those who legislate and those who act.
Some territories have quietly become little green paradises. Rwanda, for example, was the first country to ban plastic bags in 2008 and replace them with biodegradable bags made of natural materials such as cotton, fruit or papyrus fiber. Also, one saturday a month, Rwandans aged between 18 and 65 join forces to collect waste, plant trees or renovate public infrastructures: this is “Umuganda day“. Also, an ambitious project marks this year 2021: the creation of a 100% ecological district a few kilometers from Kigali. This micro-city called “Wakanda” should be ready by the end of the year.
On a more touristic point of view, Costa Rica wants to be a green destination. For 30 years now, the country has been working to recover its forest ecosystem by drastically protecting it and replanting millions of trees. This has been a success, as forests now cover nearly 60% of the land.
Finally, Bhutan has made environmental protection its priority. With its mountains and forests, this small territory in the heart of Asia absorbs three times more CO2 than it emits, a feat in an age of mass consumption. And that’s not all: 100% of the energy consumed comes from hydroelectric sources and 80% of its agriculture is organic.
Unfortunately, priorities are not the same across the globe and while some are working to regenerate ecosystems, others continue to destroy them. Business-oriented policies, the presence of corruption or a lack of economic means… there is a wide range of causes and nothing can be taken for granted.
More than ever, it is necessary to adopt systems thinking in order to understand and identify change drivers. There are many challenges, but the ecosystems are linked and there are no small initiatives. Moreover, the strength of the circular economy is that it only takes one good idea to have a tenfold impact.