14 December 2020
UNECE Programme Countries Explore Role of Trade in Promoting Circularity in Transition Economies
Photo by Bas Emmen
story highlights

The webinar themed, ‘Promoting Circularity in Transition Economies: The Role of Trade and Economic Cooperation,’ brought together representatives from Georgia, Kazakhstan, and North Macedonia to share success stories, and exchange perspectives and lessons learned.

The discussions contributed to the preparations for the 69th Commission session of UNECE member States to be held in April 2021 under the theme, ‘Promoting Circular Economy and Sustainable Use of Natural Resources in the UNECE Region’.

A webinar organized by the UN Economic Commission for Europe (UNECE) and Geneva Trade Platform and hosted by the Geneva Graduate Institute’s Centre for Trade and Economic Integration explored circular economy opportunities arising from value chains, trade, and trade facilitation in transition economies in Central Asia, the Caucasus, and the Western Balkans.

The webinar convened on 8 December, as part of the World Circular Economy Forum, on the theme, ‘Promoting Circularity in Transition Economies: The Role of Trade and Economic Cooperation.’ The event served as a platform for representatives from UNECE programme countries to share success stories and exchange perspectives and lessons learned.

Elisabeth Tuerk, Director, Economic Cooperation and Trade, UNECE, moderated the session.

Olga Algayerova, UN Under-Secretary-General and Executive Secretary, UNECE, offered opening remarks. She noted that by 2050, the world will have 9 billion people to feed, while at the same time providing access to sustainable energy, tackling climate change, and promoting resilience, inclusiveness, and sustainability. Highlighting the role of effective economic cooperation, Algayerova said transition to a circular economy “will bring us closer to the SDGs” and promote a thriving economy to benefit everyone. She underscored the importance of capacity building through the exchange of best practices and lessons learned to enable circular pathways in transition economies.

Kreshnik Bekteshi, Minister of Economy, North Macedonia, discussed North Macedonia’s efforts to promote more sustainable production, consumption, and waste management. He highlighted strategic objectives and policies to support a circular approach in trade, the greening of industries and sectors, and better environmental performance of processes and products. Bekteshi outlined a national programme for competitiveness and entrepreneurship, which supports companies’ efforts to adopt circular economy principles through, among others, recycling, remanufacturing, and waste prevention and management. He underscored his country’s commitment to a “cleaner world” and environmental protection at the national and regional levels.

Nino Tandilashvili, Deputy Minister of Environment Protection and Agriculture, Georgia, underscored the need to ensure sustainable development for the sake of future generations, and stressed the role of international collaboration in achieving a green and sustainable recovery from COVID-19. She noted that circular economy is crucial for achieving climate-friendly development and creating new jobs, and reported that Georgia is focusing on sectors with high potential for circular economy. Tandilashvili reported on national regulations to strengthen environmental governance, and highlighted the role of public-private partnerships (PPPs) in reducing waste and pollution.

Olzhas Sartayev, CEO, Special Economic Zone, ‘Park of Innovative Technologies,’ Almaty, Kazakhstan, described policies, efforts, and initiatives that seek to promote green growth in Kazakhstan. He highlighted, inter alia, his country’s concept strategy for transition to a green economy, and the recently established ministry dedicated to the environment and ecology. Sartayev reported on efforts to promote circularity in Almaty in transport, agriculture, construction, industry, and waste, among other sectors. He highlighted the role of active citizenship and the importance of innovation to foster transition to a circular economy.

Aleksandra Vucinic, Head, Group for Circular and Green Economy, Ministry of Environmental Protection, Serbia, said her country has achieved partial transition from linear to circular economy, stressing the need to include the concept in all sectors for full implementation. She outlined challenges recognized in a 2018 gap analysis, and noted that a 2020 roadmap for circular economy in Serbia seeks to motivate industry to create new jobs and find sustainable market solutions. Vucinic reported on existing and planned strategies and programmes directed at promoting circular economy in industry, public procurement, production, and waste management. Noting that “regulation does not follow strategic documents,” she stressed the need for more laws to support implementation and for improved public awareness.

Marianne Kettunen, Principal Policy Analyst and Head of Programme, Institute for European Environmental Policy (IEEP), addressed the role trade can play in supporting transition to circular economy. She identified key elements of the EU Circular Economy Action Plan, developed as part of the European Green Deal, including expanded sector coverage. She said the Action Plan provides a policy framework for sustainable products and production standards, and provides options for trade partners to cooperate, noting decreasing demand for raw materials among the challenges.

Kettunen highlighted the World Trade Organization’s (WTO) efforts to promote circular economy as a tool to support green recovery, including discussions during the WTO Trade and Environment Week and the launch of structured discussions on trade and environmental sustainability. She recommended that in their efforts to achieve circularity, transition economies go beyond recycling, and build on trade relationships with the EU and on regional initiatives.   

During discussion, participants addressed, among other issues:

  • tools to identify competitive areas for promoting circular economy;
  • ways to stimulate circularity in small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs);
  • challenges in waste recycling; and
  • ways to reconcile circular economy with international trade rules.

In closing, Tuerk identified scope for more work, and urged approaching circular economy from national, international, regional, and city perspectives.

The webinar was organized with support from the Finnish Innovation Fund Sitra. The discussions contributed to the preparations for the 69th Commission session of UNECE member States to be held in April 2021 under the theme, ‘Promoting Circular Economy and Sustainable Use of Natural Resources in the UNECE Region.’ [Webinar Recording] [UNECE Event Webpage] [SDG Knowledge Hub Sources]

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