As I return from the World Economic Forum’s (WEF) 2022 Annual Meeting, I reflect on the circular conversations and sessions that took place and share some of my observations from my time in Davos.
Understandably, the war in Ukraine and its implications for safety, energy and food security were front and centre in many of the sessions and conversations. If you add supply chain disruptions, continued pandemic lockdowns in some parts of the world and rising inflation to the mix, you have all the ingredients for converging crises reshaping the global agenda, with a renewed focus on dealing with the immediate issues at hand.
Did this move focus away from the climate change movement, and more specifically the role the circular economy plays in tackling this? Quite the opposite, I would argue.
In fact, the circular economy has become even more important given the worldwide challenges and disruptions, and this was reflected in Davos. The need for a more resource efficient and resilient economy was clear.
At COP26 in November, the circular economy was largely viewed through the climate lens—as circular economy strategies can mitigate over half of global greenhouse gas emissions. This Circularity Gap Report finding was also the rationale for the mission to double global circularity in the next 10 years, which is the heart of the new strategy of The Platform for Accelerating the Circular Economy (PACE), with members such as the World Resources Institute (WRI) and Philips.
As Frans van Houten, CEO of Philips, mentioned during the session ‘Doubling Global Circularity by 2032’ hosted by PACE: ‘We need more global stakeholders to join the effort to double global circularity by 2032 by making more sustainable consumption and production the norm. This will support the drive towards climate-neutral and inclusive economies. We fully endorse this ambition and encourage our industry peers to join us in putting circularity front and centre—setting targets, delivering on them, and demonstrating tangible impact, while sharing learnings and progress to show it can be done.’
This goal can also help companies start to better understand what they will need to do to reach their 2030 and 2050 net-zero targets. In many cases, they will not get there without circular economy strategies and addressing the scope 3 consumption-based emissions. Stientje van Veldhoven, Vice President and Regional Director of WRI Europe, clearly made this point in the session: ‘Our current consumption patterns are a root cause of climate change, biodiversity loss, pollution and inequity. With 10% of the world population consuming 40% of the resources, higher-income countries in particular have a responsibility to lower their footprint.’
A key question raised at this year’s WEF Annual Meeting was how we can avoid the next crisis. Resilience and adaptability are now vitally important. For instance, how can we secure the relevant raw materials needed for the energy transition given the geopolitical situation? Clearly, the circular economy has a large role to play here. By ensuring that everything is used at its highest value for as long as possible, the circular economy can reduce the need for finite virgin resources. By ensuring that we use regenerative resources, the circular economy can greatly reduce the dependency on fossil fuels that can spur conflict.
What is needed now is to raise our ambition and move from good intentions to action and measurable progress. PACE has a large role to play by enabling crucial collaboration between sectors, industries and geographies. As we look to Stockholm+50, government and company leaders need to collaborate and set up their ambition. They can do so by joining PACE and endorsing the Global Goal to double circularity by 2032. With more leading organisations joining, we can speed up and scale up, working towards doubling global circularity, creating a healthy planet, and tackling the interlinked crises of climate change, biodiversity loss, pollution and inequality.