Walter Stahel recently said, “Linear economy is like a river and a circular economy is like a lake.” Probably circular bioeconomy would be a lake full of precious life.
As you know, circular economy and bioeconomy are only recently getting proper attention among the public and policy makers. But in essence circular bioeconomy is the oldest concept on planet earth. All nature is based on the principles of the circular economy. Nothing is lost and everything has its purpose.
The Global Resources Outlook, published by UNEP International Resource Panel last year, demonstrated the importance of responsible natural resource use. Global resource use has more than tripled since 1970 and economic growth has been a main driver. Extraction and processing of natural resources alone caused 90% of global land-related biodiversity loss and water stress in 2017, and over 50% of climate change impacts. Non-metallic minerals, such as sand, gravel and clay account for about 50% of all resources that we extract from the Earth, and the majority of industrial emissions arise from the production of bulk materials like cement, metals, chemicals and petrochemical products.
There is no sustainable future without decoupling human wellbeing and economic growth from resource use and environmental impacts and circular bioeconomy should be understood as an efficient instrument to deliver this decoupling.
We live in market economies where signals to market players are essential for our behaviour. It is not difficult to argue that labour capital is undervalued, and under-rewarded, and natural capital is in many cases not valued at all. This leads to the conclusion that a lot of GDP growth in the past decades has been achieved at the cost of depleting natural capital. We are privatising the profits and socialising the costs.
There is no doubt about the importance of natural capital. It provides us with a wide range of services, but also with those less tangible benefits, linked to ecosystem services. Investments in so called nature-based solutions offer multiple opportunities to unlock new revenue streams and to increase societal engagement. Protecting eco-systems and biodiversity should thus be understood as an essential ingredient for building the potential capacity of the circular bioeconomy.
Through depletion of natural capital, we are indebting the younger generation, and the billions of euros needed for the current economic recovery are just additional debt, falling mainly on their shoulders. We cannot leave them with all the debts, financial and environmental, without providing them a promise, and a solution, of a better world, than the one we live in.
Many are saying that the world after COVID-19 will different. It will not be different, but we will hopefully understand it better. We are for the first time facing the emergence of a single, tightly coupled human social-ecological system of planetary scope. We are more vulnerable, interconnected and interdependent than ever. The severity and frequency of health-related outbreaks, climate related extreme weather events… will in the future very likely increase. We need to rethink the way we manage the risks. We need to be better prepared to limit these unwanted, but likely events. We need to create resilient economies and societies.
In conclusion, circular bioeconomy has a major potential to contribute to the necessary transition of our economies and societies, but it has to respect sustainability criteria. I see the Circular Bioeconomy Alliance as a governance instrument where we could join forces and contribute to the role circular bioeconomy could, and should, play in the transition to an economy consistent with the Sustainable Development Goals.
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