18 June 2019
SDG Knowledge Weekly: Circular Economy Transitions and Resource Use
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Several papers were launched in the weeks around the World Circular Economy Forum, including from the Asia-Europe Environment Forum and Circle Economy.

The Institute for Global Environmental Strategies released or contributed to reports on: proposals for G20 countries on future policies to mainstream circular economy and society; G7 policies and actions that contribute to resource efficiency, circular economy and sustainable materials management; and plastic pollution and recycling practices at national and regional level in Asia.

Chatham House explores opportunities to coordinate regional trade policies and investment programs to rapidly scale up the circular economy in the developing world.

This week’s SDG Knowledge Weekly reviews publications launched around the 2019 World Circular Economy Forum, which convened from 3-5 June in Helsinki, Finland, on the themes of a fair and just transition; impactful investments; and progressive governance. The SDG Knowledge Hub’s June monthly forecast elaborates on many of the elements on which this brief is based, particularly plastic pollution.

An SDG Knowledge Hub write-up highlights a refrain from the WCEF, that we must shift to “living instead of consuming,” and notes that many participants called for an in-depth assessment of the main barriers to the circular economy transition. Several reports and articles offer examples of how to “live” in transition to a circular economy at regional, national and local levels. A study highlighted at a Sitra-organized side event models how a circular economy will affect jobs and employment opportunities in Finland. The study finds that six main sectors—buildings, textiles, food production, mining, forestry and electronics—all are well-suited to a shift towards circular economy, though each will face different challenges and opportunities. The full results of the research will be released later in 2019, and will include suggestions for how other governments can help workers find inclusive, circular employment.

On the margins of the WCEF, the Asia-Europe Environment Forum launched a publication titled, ‘Closing the loop: ASEM’s transition towards achieving a circular economy,’ which is a product of the Asia-Europe Meeting (ASEM) research on SDG 12 (responsible production and consumption). The paper provides a bird’s-eye view of how ASEM partner countries can approach implementation of SDG 12, including integration of the Goal’s targets into national strategies, target-setting and translation, and monitoring activities. Key messages highlight the importance of public procurement practices, the broader role of governments and businesses, and considerations for choosing indicators and metrics against which progress will be measured. Information on circular economy strategies in partner countries’ national development strategies is available in the paper’s annex, along with relevant sectoral strategies, and identified targets and indicators that link to SDG 12. Information on the launch event is available here.

Also on procurement, the Recycling Council of Ontario hosted the Circular Procurement Summit from 11-13 June 2019, on the theme of advancing the circular economy through public sector purchasing.

A T20 policy brief authored by researchers the Institute for Global Environmental Strategies (IGES) and the University of Tokyo outlines six proposals for Group of 20 (G20) countries on policies to mainstream circular economy and society. The proposals underscore the need to: 1) capture the momentum raised by public attention on marine plastic pollution; 2) raise the level of ambition of extended producer responsibility (EPR); 3) provide policy support for circular economy business models; 4) promote regional circulating and ecological spheres to enhance bottom-up initiatives at local level; 5) enhance international policy coordination and harmonization for circular economy and society; and 6) incorporate planetary boundaries into the indicators of circular economy and society. For each proposal, the brief provides a rationale and suggested means of implementation.

Chatham House calls on donors to support circulate economy as an industrial development strategy.

The Ministry of Environment of Japan and IGES released a synthesis report following the G7 Alliance on Resource Efficiency, covering both the Toyama Framework on Material Cycles (2016) and the Five-year Bologna Roadmap (2017) adopted at G7 Environment Ministers’ Meetings. The report compiles policies and actions that contribute to resource efficiency, circular economy and sustainable materials management, in the areas of plastics, food waste, green public procurement, extension of products’ lifecycles, EPR, and industrial symbiosis. It notes actions that can be taken by the private sector, local governments and cities, and jointly by public-private partnerships (PPPs), and internationally through cooperation.

On plastic pollution and recycling practices at national and regional level, a previously-released IGES policy brief offers proposals to strengthen Japan’s domestic and regional cooperation, particularly in the context of China’s restriction on imports of plastic scrap. The brief reviews trends and issues pertaining to international material recycling routes for plastic scrap exported from Japan. The brief highlights that recycling routes have shifted from China to Southeast and other East Asian countries, and risks of pollution in these countries have escalated as a result. The authors recommend that policymakers in Asian countries develop uniform, standardized and transparent trade standards for plastic scrap in the region, and that policymakers in Japan work to ensure accurate data collection to inform and expand domestic plastic scrap processing and recycling within the country.

The dynamics among countries within a region at varying levels of development adds complexity to plastics, recycling, and broader issues of circularity. A report by Chatham House explores opportunities to coordinate regional trade policies and investment programs to rapidly scale up the circular economy in the developing world. Among its recommendations, the paper calls on: national governments to identify synergies between a circular economy and existing development plans, rather than develop a separate “circular economy strategy;” donors to support circular economy as an industrial development strategy; international institutions and regional fora to engage in knowledge sharing and support; and the EU and China, under the auspices of their MoU, to establish deeper dialogues with developing countries. A write-up of the report is also available on BusinessGreen.

Also focusing on the regional levels, the first Great Lakes Circular Economy Forum is being convened from 25-26 June 2019, in Toronto, Canada, by the UN Environment Programme North America, the City of Toronto, and the Council of the Great Lakes Region. The forum aims to apply the circular economy to North America’s Great Lakes region, highlight the roles of government and business / industry in advancing circular engagement, and address cross-cutting themes of equity and social inclusion, the roles of technology and big data, investment challenges and opportunities, and the role of First Nations and indigenous peoples.

At the local/city level, a report and blog from Circle Economy describe how Prague, Czech Republic can begin its “circular transition.” The study, conducted with INCIEN, identifies areas of opportunity to kick-start circularity, noting that households, the construction sector and waste management systems offer key starting points. The report conducts a material flow analysis for each area, and provides an action plan, such as deconstruction criteria for the construction sector and waste biomass to bio-based compressed natural gas (CNG) in the utilities sector. The project and the associated action plans have informed the development of several pilot initiatives in Prague, including the use of biogas.

C40 Cities published a compilation of case studies on municipality-led circular economy transitions, in partnership with the Climate-KIC Circular Cities Project in December 2018. The Ellen MacArthur Foundation released a ‘Circular Economy in Cities’ project guide with Arup in March 2019.

In the corporate world, a variety of solutions, case studies and innovative examples have gained attention. These include Unilever’s efforts to boost recyclability of its packaging, Dell’s development of “pollution ink” that utilizes soot captured from diesel generators, Nike’s principles of circular design (summarized on Sustainable Brands here), and a new 3R Initiative launched by Danone, Veolia, Nestlé and Tetra Pak aimed at standardizing and accelerating corporate action on plastics.

For readers interested in hearing more on circular economy from a business perspective, GreenBiz is hosting Circularity 19 from 18-20 June 2019, in Minneapolis, Minnesota, US. Select sessions and interviews will be livestreamed via Circularity Virtual. In addition, a GreenBiz Insights report on circular economy trends is available for download, as is a separate “edie explains” guide on achieving circularity. An IISD video titled, ‘Green Economy – A Sustainable Relationship’ presents programmes that the EU has implemented in partnership with the UN Environment Programme, on circular economy and related topics.

Additional issues of the SDG Knowledge Weekly can be found here.

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