We are encountering a global sustainability crisis that has three dimensions: the climate crisis, the biodiversity crisis and the crisis caused by the overuse of natural resources. For tackling these crises, one of the most powerful solutions is the circular economy. The World Circular Economy Forum 2019 in Helsinki this June brought together over 2,000 experts to discuss these solutions.
After the alarming IPCC report released last October the debate has been intense about who needs to lead the transition. Key participants will be businesses as solution providers; individuals as demanding customers; and cities as innovative platforms that can use public procurement as a strategic tool to help new circular economy innovations enter the markets.
However, the biggest responsibility is on governments. The sustainability crisis is getting out of hand and there is no time to lose.
According to the UN Resources Outlook, the extraction and processing of natural resources causes 50% of global emissions and 80 to 90% of biodiversity loss. We must make better use of existing materials.
We urgently need strong fiscal instruments – legislation, extended producer responsibility, R&D&I support and regulations – to make the transition fast enough. Here, states and international institutions must take the lead. Unless governments start taking the sustainability crisis seriously and stop subsidising polluting and wasteful businesses and operating models, our chances of succeeding will be poor and limited.
Governments must also ensure that sustainable everyday solutions are far more cost-efficient and attractive to individuals than those that are unsustainable and lead to pollution.
We have until 2030 to halve global CO2 emissions and by 2050 we must achieve negative emissions. With the current biodiversity crisis we have even less time. At some point, the natural system will collapse. We cannot let this happen.
Only a select few governments seem to understand quite how dangerous the situation is. The UN, IPCC, IPR and IPBES have all understood this, but where are the countries taking a lead with tangible action? Where is the global sustainability urgency?
If companies with new business models must compete against subsidised, established, polluting businesses, then these new solutions will have limited opportunities to succeed. It takes a long time to scale solutions up – and we don’t have the luxury of time.
But there is hope, with the Green wave of those elected to the European parliament and with Finland’s new government committing to 1.5-degree-proof policies and placing the circular economy high on the agenda.
We must persuade governments, support them and even force them to take ambitious measures to accelerate the circular economy transition. We need to develop new technologies and innovations, and scale them up, keeping in mind that the transition must simultaneously be fair and inclusive, in both developed and developing countries.
No-one can make the transition alone. We need close collaboration between all countries and all sectors of society.
We need to accelerate hope, innovations and technologies, fairness and inclusiveness – towards a circular economy and a better world.
World Circular Economy Forum, www.sitra.fi/en/projects/world-circular-economy-forum-2019