The world’s population is growing at a rapid rate. By 2030, the planet will be home to nearly 9 billion people increasing demand for products and services at an unparalleled level.
Today’s linear economy, characterised by a “take, make and dispose” model has dominated economic thinking and consumer behaviour for decades. Relying on the heavy consumption of natural resources and generating a significant amount of waste, this model is not socially responsible and is no longer sustainable. For example, according to the World Bank, Municipal Solid Waste (MSW) levels are expected by double by 2025, from 1.3 billion tonnes per year to 2.2 billion.
The circular economy brings an alternative approach as it focuses on keeping resources in use for as long as possible. At its core is a drive to reduce waste to a minimum and extract the maximum value from resources whilst in use by repurposing, reusing or recycling the materials. For instance, within a circular economy, durable products are leased, rented or shared and if they are sold, there are incentives or agreements in place to ensure the return and reuse the product or its materials at the end of its period of primary use.
The concept of the circular economy has gained increasing attention among global leaders and businesses in recent years given the rise in natural disasters bought about by global warming. For instance, at present, 800 million people (11% of the world’s population) are vulnerable to climate change impacts such as droughts, floods, heat waves, extreme weather events and sea level rise. Increased pressure on natural resources as the global population grows will worsen these climate change impacts, threatening life, economies and resources.
Whilst the benefits of a transition to a circular economy is widely embraced, actioning it requires rethinking market strategies and economic models. This is a significant undertaking as it entails a shift in consumer behaviour, new forms of regulation for production processes, the creation of new avenues for employment and an emphasis on reducing demand for new raw materials.
Governments are gradually imposing new restrictions on pollution and waste, recognising the environmental and economic case for a circular model. But Less developed countries are often preoccupied with internal economic and social challenges that prevent action related to combating climate change being made. As a result, while areas such as waste management is improving in developed nations, waste is a growing issue in developing countries.
Driven by a lack of awareness on the impact waste has on the environment, as well as a lack of access to the innovative methodologies and tools of the growing circular economy mean that less developed countries are being left behind or taken advantage of in the fight against waste.
For example, in 2018, nearly 50m tonnes of electronic waste was generated worldwide – or about 7kg for every person on the planet according to the UN's Step initiative. However, the European Environment Agency, estimate that 1.3m tonnes of used electrical products are shipped out of the EU every year, mostly to west Africa and Asia often under false pretences. "These goods may subsequently be processed in dangerous and inefficient conditions, harming the health of local people and damaging the environment," said a spokesman.
Understanding the scale of the issue, The Global Maker Challenge, a project devised by The Mohammed bin Rashid Initiative for Global Prosperity is uniting world’s leading manufacturers, start-ups and entrepreneurs, governments, UN agencies and philanthropists, academia and researchers, to form a community dedicated to spreading global prosperity through the art of ‘making’. In 2016, the initiative launched its ‘Global Maker Challenge’ an online open-innovation platform that asks ‘makers’ and innovators to connect and collaborate, to solve real-world problems. In September 2019, the initiative will launch its second cohort, seeking innovative solutions that help communities minimise waste and maximise the added value of their resources. These solutions will help to ensure that every global community is be empowered to protect the natural resources that sustain their way of life, whilst also contributing to the global fight against climate change.
Whilst adopting the circular economy methodology will benefit the environment, it also stands to aid global prosperity. For instance, according to a McKinsey report the adoption of the circular economy could lead to a 3 percent increase in productivity and cost savings of some €600 billion a year by 2030 and the European Parliament estimate that by 2030, the circular economy could create up to 3 million new jobs and reduce unemployed of between 250,000 to 520,000 persons in Europe alone. Therefore, redesigning our approach to production and consumption will not only help reduce the pressure on natural resources and enable practices that are more efficient but can also serve to help lift communities out of poverty.
The UN has adopted the need to ‘ensure sustainable consumption and production patterns’ as a Sustainable Development Goal to be delivered by 2030. From its research into how to activate this objective, the organisation have concluded that key to driving a behaviour change towards better use of resources is the adoption of ‘well-designed national policy frameworks and instruments’ designed to enable the fundamental shift towards sustainable consumption and production patterns. The approach is working. In 2018, 71 countries and the European Union reported on a total of 303 policy instruments in place, but there is work to be done in supporting less developed countries join this movement.
By inspiring innovations that minimise waste and maximise resources, countries that are overwhelmed with internal issues can be supported in the global climate change movement easily and effectively.
The ticking timebomb of irreversible climate change sounds ever louder and therefore, a global movement to transform how the world produces and consumes is critical. This is not the time to allow those with smaller economies or less developed technology fall behind, it is time to support our global neighbours in a collaborative effort to save our world.
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