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Circular Economy, a smart economic decision to fighting three planetary crises

Circular Economy, a smart economic decision to fighting three planetary crises

The COVID-19 outbreak has exposed how vulnerable economies are to unsustainable growth processes and the consequent catastrophe it can bring to modern societies. It has underlined the intricate linkages of human beings and their development with the natural world. In a year that many nations and leaders have declared as the time to reset, renew, and reshape economic development it has become imperative to keep nature at the center of all our strategies. An expert panel came together at the World Sustainable Development Summit (WSDS) 2021 to discuss the thematic track: 'Examining interlinkages to Climate Action, Biodiversity protection and Circular Economy'.

Why sustainable development is important in fighting climate change

According to Mr P.V.S. Surya Kumar, Deputy Managing Director, NABARD, climate change is an outcome of anthropogenic carbon emission associated with uncontrolled use of biotic and abiotic resources. Continued reliance and the exploitation of these resources has led to the loss of biodiversity arising from deforestation, land degradation and pollution in rivers and oceans. Nearly 50% of global income comes from nature through its services in key economic sectors like agriculture, construction, and mining. Biodiversity and the ecosystem services in the form of carbon sinks have a very important role in reducing CO2 emissions, thereby mitigating climate change. Hence curtailing biodiversity loss is important for ensuring the continued flow of ecosystem services to humans. For example, if the deforestation rates are halved by 2030, the cost of avoided damage from climate change would amount to US$3.7 trillion in terms of Net Present Value. Highlighting these, Mr P.V.S. Surya Kumar, said, "Despite our artistic pretentions, sophistication, and many accomplishments, we owe our existence to six inches of topsoil and the fact that it rains."

Is it possible to strike a balance between fighting climate change and loss of biodiversity while pursuing economic growth?

Against the backdrop of the pandemic, the answer to sustainable growth and development has become clearer. We can no longer pursue growth without taking into consideration its impact on nature, said Prof. Kazuhiko Takeuchi, President, Institute for Global Environmental Strategies. Elaborating on this point, he said the need of the hour is to consider a short-term response to the current emergency created by COVID-19 while providing a long-term vision for transformative change. He pointed to the Triple R framework proposed by IGES as a viable solution. The framework involves "Responding" to the COVID crisis, taking counter measures to "Recover", and "Redesigning" current socioeconomic systems, with an emphasis on 'just transition' to a truly sustainable and resilient world.

Ms Astrid Schomaker, Director, Global Sustainable Development, European Commission, said, "For us to fight climate change we will have to work as one. From governments to companies, to civil society, everybody will have to come together to find sustainable solutions."

Bringing circular economy to the forefront of sustainable development

The circular economy has emerged as an alternative model based on a 'take-make-consume-throw away' pattern. Circular economy minimizes waste through reusing, repairing, refurbishing, and recycling existing materials and products. It advocates for biomimicry, ecosystem service valuation, bio-economy, and renewable energy. Drawing attention to the need for promoting circular economy for achieving sustainable development, Mr. Rameshwar Prasad Gupta, Secretary, Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change, Government of India, quoted Mahatma Gandhi saying, "The world has enough for everyone's needs, but not everyone's greed".

Echoing this sentiment around sustainable development, Ms Inger Andersen, Under Secretary-General, United Nations and Executive Director, United Nations Environment Programme, added, "A global move to circular economy should not be viewed as something that will hold us back. But it should rather be seen as a smart economic decision that is key to ending three planetary crises, namely, a crisis of climate change, biodiversity and nature loss, and a crisis of pollution and waste. She further highlighted that such a global move would generate USD 4.5 trillion in annual economic output by 2030.

Looking to a sustainable future where we give back more than we take from our world

The future is where we need to derive more value from natural resources and be efficient in doing so. Circular economy holds the key to responding to growing demand and transitioning to a sustainable model, said Mr Basile van Havre, Co-Chair, Convention on Biological Diversity. Calling for prudence in managing our limited resources, he added that "we have to be more organized in handling the finite resources of our planet. This can be achieved by innovating to optimize the utilization of costly and scarce resources".

Promoting a circular economy is a viable way in which the world can come together to act for the earth, thereby leaving the generations to come with sufficient resources to pursue their own developmental goals.