Experts explore potential of global transition to circular economy

Expanding population growth, rapid urbanization and economic development are increasing global waste production at an alarming rate. Decoupling economic growth from resource consumption is necessary given the ever-increasing demands on our planet’s limited natural resources. Yet, the transition to a more eco-friendly economic system is complex, and requires collective action by multiple stakeholders across borders.

Although some progress is being made, solutions must be scaled and implemented at an accelerated pace to ensure the world is on track to achieve the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.

Stemming from the in-depth review of SDG 12 on responsible consumption and production this past July at the 2018 High-Level Political Forum, and the HLPF’s upcoming review of SDG 13 on climate change, the Economic and Financial (Second) Committee of the United Nations General Assembly and the Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC) held a joint meeting on the transition to a circular economy as a means for accelerating implementation of multiple Sustainable Development Goals.

The joint meeting focused on the concept of a “circular economy,” where products and materials are kept in use for as long as possible, then recovered so that waste and pollution do not exist by design, and where natural systems are regenerated. The model is an alternative to our current predominantly “linear” economic model, in which limited resources are unsustainably extracted, consumed and disposed of.

Prominent experts from multiple sectors joined the event to discuss a variety of case studies, policies and partnerships for the circular economy. They highlighted opportunities arising from the transition from a linear to a circular model, as well as key barriers to be addressed to shift the economic paradigm, such as a lack of awareness and understanding.

UN DESA’s Under-Secretary-General Liu Zhenmin emphasized the major impact a transition of this kind could have on achieving the SDGs, stating that “the global shift towards a circular economy holds tremendous potential. Most notably, it can act as an engine to accelerate the implementation of the Sustainable Development Goals.”

Member States were particularly interested in the different methods that might drive the transition to a circular economy, and Mr. Liu underlined the need for more tools and knowledge to support increased implementation of this new economic model.

Experts also offered various opinions on ways in which governments, the private sector, consumers, research institutions, and civil society can encourage and support the transition to more sustainable methods of production and consumption.

Mr. Liu also recognized the importance of new technologies and partnerships as a way to enhance and accelerate global implementation of a circular economy.

“We must also innovate and leverage technology to support this global change, which is already providing tangible benefits for those at the forefront of this revolution. And we must do this by working in partnership with one another,” Mr. Liu said.

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