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  • Davide Bonesi

Circular Economy Policies and Legislation: Experiences from Emerging Economies - WCEF2022 Side Event

In our current world scenario, no country has entirely developed a circular economy. Countries should make an effort to incorporate circular processes into their activities in order to meet the needs arising from international treaties, such as the Paris Agreement, and to ensure the well-being of our planet for future generations. By aiming at reducing waste, reusing materials, recycling more, and switching from linear to circular productive processes, we aim at taking care of our planet. Naturally, in order to reach these goals, countries are called to change not only their technological and financial aspects but also their peoples’ culture. With this regard, policies and laws are instrumental in driving the change, and governments can benefit from sharing the opportunities and challenges they bring along.

On July 21st, 2022, Circular Innovation Lab and Chatham House organized a World Circular Economy Forum 2022 side event titled “Circular Economy Policies and Legislation: Experiences from Emerging Economies". Bringing perspectives from various emerging economies, this event saw the participation of policymakers and government officials from Africa, Latin America, Asia, and Europe. Moreover, representatives of international organizations were also invited as panellists. Overall, the event hosted 12 speakers from national governments and 5 speakers from international organizations.

The event was divided into three sessions. The first session focused on experiences and challenges in implementing national circular economy policies and legislation in Africa. The second session discussed the same issues but focused on other emerging economies. Lastly, the third session focused on the role of international organizations, think tanks and civil society in promoting circular economy policies in emerging countries.

Starting from the first session, African governmental officials presented their countries’ experiences in implementing circular economy policies and legislation. Mr. Ablaye Diao (Direction de l’Environnement et des Etablissements Classés, Government of Senegal) highlighted how, in the adapted development plan by the government, the green economy is a means to meet basic social needs and sustainable development. In fact, through targets and laws, the government is providing a legal and institutional ground for implementing a circular and greener economy. In particular, the aim to transit from a linear to a circular economy is visible in the national 2020 new Plastic Law, with innovative provisions on waste management and the ban on single-use plastics. As a challenge, he addressed the need for industrial infrastructures for waste management, which still need investments.

The national dialogue between the public and private sectors was first addressed by Mr. Tanyaradzwa Mundoga (Deputy Director, Natural Resources, Department of Environment and Natural Resources, Ministry of Environment, Climate, Tourism and Hospitality Industry, Government of Zimbabwe). As for now, he mentioned, for national industries, transitioning to a circular economy is a short-term additional cost, and without dialogue between the public and private sectors, we cannot reach our goal. The second challenge he addressed is how to change the public attitude of citizens. The requirement of time is key to changing the deep roots of a cultural mindset.

This last point was touched upon by Mr. Hayden Romano (Managing Director of the Environment Management Authority of Trinidad and Tobago) as well. In his intervention, he highlighted how the change from a linear to a circular economy is a major cultural change, and, thus, policies need to focus on education as well. Moving to the Government of South Africa, Mr. Kgauta Mokoena (Chief Director for Chemicals and Waste Policy, Monitoring and Evaluation, Department of Forestry, Fisheries and the Environment, Government of South Africa) looked back at the Constitution. In fact, the environment is present both as a key principle in the South African Constitution and in national legislation. To achieve effective environmental management, he added, we should start perceiving waste as a resource.

By presenting some results coming from enacted policies, Mr. Girma Gemechu (Director General, Environmental Compliance Monitoring and Control Directorate, Ministry of Environment Forest and Climate Change, Government of Ethiopia) shared some challenges and lessons learned during the process. As for the challenges, not having clear roadmaps for goals, the continuous increase of waste and the lack of development in technology and industry played a role. However, these policies also brought some lessons on how to make the circular economy more effective. Overall, they highlighted the benefits of having multiple stakeholders, the importance of national development plans, and the involvement of private actors.

Connecting to one of the challenges mentioned above, Mr. Oliver Boachie (Special Adviser to the Environment Minister, Environment Ministry, Government of Ghana) emphasized how a great deal of urbanization and population growth are making product consumption rise. As a result, more waste is generated. In this regard, we need to educate people about their roles as producers, consumers, and citizens. Lastly, Ms. Perine Kasonde (Principal Inspector, Zambia Environmental Management Agency, Government of Zambia) addressed the circular economy as a cross-cutting issue, involving both the environment and society. Among the issues, she focused on the involvement of businesses as producers and distributors of goods, and the lack of incentives for recycling.

Moving on to Session 2, policymakers from other emerging economies shared their experiences. The first speaker was Mr. Nguyen Dinh Tho (Director General, Institute of Strategy and Policy on Natural Resources and the Environment, Government of Vietnam). In encouraging local enterprises to embrace circular economy principles, he saw a different management of plastic as the first priority. Secondly, effectively managing the electric equipment waste stream should be taken into account. Moreover, a key takeaway is to encourage investments such as green bonds, as well as reduce the price of land and taxes on aspects of the circular economy that are valuable.

Guatemala has also started some activities to enable the implementation of a circular economy. Mr. Melvin Gabriel Garcia Lopez (Adviser of Climate Change Mitigation Department, Ministry of Environment and Natural Resources, Government of Guatemala) talked about innovative and regulatory activities that help promote the innovation of local products. Thus, the role of the government is to allow for technical developments and create incentives to reach them.

The discussion went further with Ms. Farhina Ahmed (Secretary, Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change, Government of Bangladesh). In her contribution, she highlighted how the circular economy in Bangladesh has yet to develop and flourish to its full potential. To illustrate, she mentioned a few factors threatening the transition. First, the amount of consumption and waste is increasing due to population growth. Second, the amount of plastic, including single-use plastic, grew due to the COVID-19 pandemic. In fact, single-use plastic is popular for its flexibility, but it goes against many circular principles. However, there is a third factor challenging the circular economy: the lack of data. In particular, this fact makes the process sluggish, making the need for cooperation among countries even stronger. As opportunities arose, Ms. Farhina Ahmed saw new employment and the creation of new business models as upcoming opportunities.

Following this, Mr. Ichiro Adachi (Environmental Management Advisor at Japan International Cooperation) presented circularity in his country, Japan. Recalling that circular economy aims at social development, thus linking economy and society, he spent some words on economic growth. As evidenced by the data, Japan's rapid economic growth between 1970 and 2000 resulted in an increase in waste. However, from 2000 onward, the level of waste was stable. As a result, Japan considers this the starting point of a circular society and economy. The various laws on the subject reveal the Japanese government's organizational framework on the subject. In fact, waste management and production cycle are separately accounted for by two different laws. Consequently, the separation creates two different goals to reach.

The last speaker of the second session was Ms. Irma Gurguliani (Deputy Head of the Waste and Chemicals Management Department, Ministry of Environmental Protection and Agriculture of Georgia, Government of Georgia). In her contribution, she addressed the importance of having a national framework and a municipal one. In this scenario, municipalities work independently on the goals to reach, before reporting to the national level.

When we talk about the circular economy, we cannot avoid taking into account the huge role of international organizations and think tanks in promoting it. The third session of the event focused on this matter. Many speakers discussed the role that these organizations play in the circular economy. According to Mr. Jocelyn Blériot (Executive Lead, Institutions, Governments, and Cities at the Ellen MacArthur Foundation), organizations should help create a common language for the circular economy. Adding to that, Mr. Henrique Pacini (Economic Affairs Officer at UNCTAD) suggested that the role of organizations is to provide neutral platforms where countries can discuss and agree on regulatory commonalities. Furthermore, they must provide information on how to regulate in unusual circumstances. From the point of view of Mr. Ignacio Sanchez Diaz (Programme Management Officer at UNEP) think tanks create a lot of science. The real challenge is finding ways to translate science into policy actions. Again, organizations can help in this matter.

Moving to the example of the African Circular Economy Network, Ms. Jocelyne Landry Tsonang (Executive Team Member at the African Circular Economy Network) supported the potential of capacity building. In fact, webinars and events help share knowledge and technological skills. Furthermore, they can establish closer ties with governments. To conclude the third session, the remark given by Mr. Mustaq Ahmed Memon (Regional Coordinator Asia Pacific Regional Office, UNEP) is valuable. He pointed out the need for learning together. Every country has strengths and weaknesses, and organizations should encourage them to learn from each other instead of following role models.

From the multiple experiences brought in by our valuable speakers, we understand that no country is entirely circular yet. By contrast, the process is ongoing; in many cases, it has just started. However, this level of awareness is what organizations and countries should look for. No country is circular for now, but our possibilities can be enlarged and strengthened by international cooperation. The latter can benefit circularity, the environment, and our society by trying to establish a dialogue in a period of geopolitical tensions.

To learn more details on the key insights and takeaways from the event, read the complete event report here.


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