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The story of Circular2050.org

There is more global agreement on human caused climate change and environmental strain than ever. Governments and societies are increasingly aware that human activities are forcing planetary boundaries in ways that may render it uninhabitable. However, the urgency of the situation and the adequate policy sets are seen in radically different ways across the world. The public belief in the climate emergency and support for significant policy intervention tends to vary with income, as developing countries are understandably focused on growth and convergence and have fewer resources available to invest for the long term. This means that some of the countries facing the greatest risk of catastrophic damage have the greatest difficulty in mobilizing public opinion and resources to mitigate or adapt to the environmental crisis.

Source: UNDP and Oxford University, 2021

 

At the same time, the scientific community is raising the alarm about the planetary boundaries, especially climate change and biosphere integrity where the Earth is already in the zone of uncertainty, but also others, like fresh water or land use where risks are increasing, with effects more pronounced in certain parts of the world.

 

Source: J.Lokrants/Azote based on Steffen et al. 2015.

 

As the threats have become increasingly evident, with floods, droughts, wildfires and crop failures featuring prominently in the media, the policy response has intensified, co-opting more and more diverse actors. Today, climate change and the environment are on the agenda of every kind of organization, in every sector, from governments to academia, industry and finance. Global coordination has become credible with the Paris Agreement and other international mechanisms showing effects. The environmental policy perspective and the public discourse have changed significantly from a “do good” moral paradigm into a crisis mitigation and management mode. The number and size of the organizations rallying behind concrete policies and investments on climate action stand as proof for that.

However, despite these efforts, the world is not on track to reach its goals in terms of GHG emissions, biodiversity, water use, forests and plastic pollution, just to name a few of the relevant environmental indicators.

With emerging economies projected to account for more and more of the global population by 2050 and naturally aspiring to better quality of life, the environmental limits will be severely tested if the economic growth model will not change substantially.

The circular economy model aims to ease the tension between development and environmental strain, by partially decoupling growth from resource consumption and waste generation. It aims to do so by optimizing renewable sources and extending the useful life of products through sharing, repairing, reusing, refurbishing and recycling. By design, the economy is expected to move from the linear model of resource extraction, processing, use and waste to a more circular model using fewer raw materials, keeping products in use for longer and minimizing waste.

Source: The Ellen MacArthur Foundation, 2019

 

While the model looks simple and straightforward, the transition towards it is anything but. Changing the economic model of the world looks like a monumental task. In reality, progress has been slow. While often presented as fully compatible with capitalism and profit, the circular model involves painful and costly decisions and is more likely to be a slow, gradual process with incremental “circularity” gains than a sudden paradigm shift.

In this context, recognizing the desirability but also the complexity of the circular economy model, the Circular2050.org initiative aims to place itself at the intersection between the generators and users of knowledge. It will strive to produce research on relevant subjects and help governments, firms, NGOs, universities, and others to contribute toward moving the economic model closer to circularity. It will do so by tackling a variety of subjects in an interdisciplinary manner, by engaging with diverse stakeholders and by using effective communication tools. Ultimately, it will seek to influence the agenda of organizations and the public, helping promote a more complex understanding of the challenges and policy options behind the circular model, with a particular focus on the developing countries of Eastern Europe and Central Asia, Sub-Saharan Africa, and the Middle East, South Asia and Latin America.

 

The activity of Circular2050.org will be guided by the following vision:

  • Persistent problems are persistent because they are difficult. There are no simple solutions to complex problems. Understanding such problems in greater depth is crucial.
  • When it comes to public policies, win-win situations are rare. More often than not they involve tough trade-offs. More accurate, nuanced, and widespread information makes these trade-offs manageable and decisions more effective.
  • Science is the best available source for informed decision making. However, science is not about being right all the time, but about becoming less wrong over time, by having a global community of scientists questioning and challenging the existing and newly produced knowledge. Science cannot tell exactly what will happen by 2050 or 2100, but is the best chance we have for understanding the world around us and evaluating the risks we are facing.
  • Markets are effective instruments stimulating entrepreneurial initiative, innovation, and efficiency, but they are weak at identifying social costs and benefits and even less effective at achieving distributive equity. States need to develop modern tools to correct the failures of markets.
  • Sustainability should be understood as equilibrium and resilience, the capacity of systems to endure and resist to shocks. It covers the environment but also the economy and society. Social systems with great disparities of wealth and quality of life within and between countries are not in equilibrium and cannot endure.
  • The economic system has been transformed by technological change. The meaning of such notions as labor and capital, private and public, competition and cooperation, are evolving to reflect that. In dealing with the challenges of the 21stcentury, the intellectual tools also need to adapt.

 

With this vision in mind and within the capabilities of its network of members and contributors, the Circular2050.org initiative will tackle the following subjects:

  • Energy & Climate
  • Water & Resources
  • Sustainability and Circular Economy

The methods and outputs will be:

  • Research and analyses
  • Policy Brief & Reports
  • Studies, scenario analyses
  • Education and training

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