European environment commissioner Janez Potočnik has told the opening Green Week session that the circular economy “will be the great innovation challenge” of the coming decades.
Speaking at The Egg in Brussels, home to Green Week 2014, the commissioner outlined the importance of the circular economy in overcoming the economic and financial challenges facing Europe, and indeed the world.
“The challenge of our generation is not the war on terror. It is how to live in a crowded world. The world is bursting at the seams in human terms, in economic terms and in ecological terms,” stressed the Slovenian official.
“I often get the feeling that we keep putting off the important challenges of the next generation by dealing with the urgent challenges of our own, except that the strains on the earth’s resources are increasingly becoming problems for our generation,” argued the commissioner.
“We are not standing still, but we are heading steadily in the wrong direction, our economies and societies are constantly evolving.
“Europe’s industrial and economic model needs to change direction. We need systemic change in technology, in organisation, in society, in finance and in politics,” explained Potočnik.
He said that Europe’s comparative advantage in the coming decades “will be defined by the relative availability of resources”, and that, “We will be obliged to focus on the markets where we are able to compete in the increasingly inter-connected world.
“It is the challenge, and the responsibility of policymakers to tackle the inertia of the old system to enable this revolution; to create the right framework conditions for a managed and predictable transition; to create the right signals, incentives and instruments.”
He continued, “It is pretty obvious that in a circular economy there can be no place for waste. It simply should not exist.
“That is why the package that the commission will adopt in a few weeks will have at its core a push for higher recycling rates, and a push for the elimination of landfill in waste legislation.”
He said that although waste legislation has been “driving us in the right direction”, many member states are lagging behind and that it’s important to get all of Europe to the “level of the best by 2030”.
“The top performers have shown us that legislation is an important catalyst for change but, to really get results, waste management must be seen as just one part of a bigger process; as one phase in the loop,” he said.
Therefore, he continued, “The circular economy package will situate waste legislation as one tool among the many needed to create a virtuous circle, in which secondary resources are sucked back into the productive economy by demand, in which one company’s waste is another’s resource, in which we buy performance, not stuff.”
The commissioner emphasised that “unlike human resources, material resources can be recycled and reused pretty much forever”.
“If you discard those resources at the end of the useful life of a product, of a building, of infrastructure, then you are losing the possibility of getting value out of those resources again and again.
“So it is through circular economy models that we have the greatest opportunity to revolutionise Europe’s resource efficiency and make Europe competitive for the future.”
In closing, Potočnik said, “It has to be said that the circular economy is exciting, it is where it’s happening – and we should transmit that sense of excitement to the outside world.”
Written for theparliamentmagazine.eu