WCEF2019 speakers: The EU needs to show global leadership on the circular economy

Peter Woodward of the Finnish innovation fund Sitra

The World Circular Economy Forum 2019 took place in Helsinki on 3-5 June, and seemingly presented “the most advanced circular economy solutions” for governments, industries, businesses and citizens – and “put pressure on the EU to strengthen [its] lead.” There is a need to fix our unsustainable economic system, speakers explained. Governments should collaborate and create predictable policies for business to able to transform to a circular model.

The third annual Forum brought together over 2200 business leaders, policymakers, researchers and innovators. Its goal was to move the circular economy into the next era and transform a “best kept secret” into something with global impact.

“The science is screaming at us: our current growth pattern is unsustainable,” said Laura Tuck, Vice President for Sustainable Development at the World Bank. “We need to change our policies which gives incentives for the overuse of resources. We must also value our natural capital such as air, land and water. The cost of depleting our natural capital must be properly accounted for.”

We are undergoing a climate crisis, but we have a solution in the circular economy, the event suggested. However, cooperation and global leadership is needed in order for it to be realised.

“For most countries their economies are too small to be self-sufficient in circularity. In order to have full circularity there’s a need for co-operation across borders,” said Elliot Harris, UN Assistant Secretary General and Chief Economist. “For that to happen, there needs to be global consensus and understanding that we want to create the circular economy with each other, not separate from each other.”

Perspective on Finland’s forthcoming EU Presidency period
Eight European countries recently called for the European Union to spend a quarter of its budget on tackling climate change. This gives a sense of how serious the EU takes the issue, said a WCEF press release. The EU shows global leadership on the circular economy by implementing policies and ensuring funds to develop and scale up solutions. Finland will assume the Presidency of the EU Council on 1 July 2019.

“Europe wants to lead, and there is strong public support from EU citizens,” said Karmenu Vella, European Commissioner for the Environment, Fisheries and Maritime Affairs.

In recent years there has been a movement towards isolationism and renewed trade barriers. This is anathema to the openness and cooperation needed to advance circular solutions to combat climate change.

Europe shows global leadership on the circular economy by ensuring its top-level importance in governance and financial resourcing in the European Commission. Furthermore, the circular economy is an opportunity for greater fairness.

“The full transition to the circular economy will require large-scale investments, especially in the developing regions around the world,” said Mikko Kosonen, President of Finnish Innovation Fund Sitra.

Finland set out “the world’s most climate-ambitious government programme”
Finland’s new government programme – with its focus on climate action, fighting inequality and moving towards the circular economy – was released during the event. The ambitious agenda was said to be an example of a predictable policy framework that makes it easier for business to adapt.

What was described as the world’s first national road map to a circular economy was published in 2016 under guidance from Sitra, the Finnish innovation fund, said the organisers.

The WCEF is the global initiative of the Finnish Innovation Fund Sitra. The WCEF2019 was hosted by Sitra and co-organised with selected international partners. Next year WCEF2020 will be held in Canada.

“We all know we have too much waste – it’s piling up in landfills, and ending up in our environment,” said Catherine McKenna, Canada’s Minister of Environment and Climate Change. “Canada is looking forward to welcoming WCEF 2020 delegates to North America, to expand circular economy networks, partnerships and opportunities. By working together we can find ways to recycle and reuse our resources and create great jobs. Let’s work together and turn that trash to cash.”

“We want to leave a strong economy and a clean environment for our children. Canadian companies are at the forefront of clean technology globally and many of our homegrown innovations involve zero waste. Cleantech and zero waste are the next wave of innovation, supporting our economy and creating good jobs, while protecting our environment,” said Navdeep Bains, Minister of Innovation, Science and Economic Development.

You can read about the event and listen to some of the speeches at the Forum’s website: www.wcef2019.com.