Themed data sheets

Title

European Circularity Days

Description

During two days, the members of the ECESP coordination group presented to an international audience the work carried out by their various working groups on different topics, from buildings and infrastructure to circular procurement, economic incentives and food waste, among others. Together with them, numerous experts and government officials discussed the possibilities of the circular economy in the aforementioned fields and presented the various initiatives they are carrying out in their respective areas of action. 

Categories

Financing and aid • Reports and publications • Forums and Initiatives • EC consultations

Automotive and mechatronics • Food chain • Renewable energies and resources • Health

Digital transformation • Circular economy • Smart cities • Key enabling technologies • SMEs and growth • Access to financing

General information

Navarre was represented by the Director-General of Industry, Energy and Strategic Projects S4, who highlighted a series of policies implemented by the Regional Executive to move towards a greener economy, sharing the stage with other European regions of Finland, Scotland and Macedonia, as well as with representatives of the European Commission's DG R&D&I and the European Investment Bank's Advisory Hub.

Firstly, buildings and infrastructure, insofar as they play a crucial role in our well-being, health and safety by providing us with the basic structures for our lives, represent a major challenge in the fight against climate change and sustainability, as the sector accounts for no less than 50% of the resources extracted and energy consumed, 40% of carbon emissions and a third of the waste generated and water used. Innovative circular solutions must therefore be found throughout the value chain. 

The European Commission has addressed this challenge through Level(s), a voluntary common framework aimed at improving the sustainability of buildings and based on a set of indicators to measure, assess and report on the performance of buildings throughout their life cycle. Likewise, it considers it a cross-cutting policy to be applied in different initiatives, highlighting in this sense the New European Bauhaus. 

From a national point of view, the Netherlands can be considered an example in addressing this issue, starting with governmental commitment. To create a fully circular economy by 2050 and an intermediate target of 50% circular raw materials by 2030, relevant national agreements have been adopted such as the 'Concrete Agreement', signed in 2018 by 4 ministries and 50 companies in the construction sector. In addition, the report 'Circular Infrastructure: the road towards a sustainable future has recently been published, providing concrete examples of good practice in achieving circularity. A new brochure will be released in March, this time at the European level. 

For its part, the German Sustainable Building Council (DGNB) has developed a certification system that has been adjusted overtime to cover the entire life cycle of buildings, including their 'deconstruction', insofar as this involves a series of activities responsible for emissions (such as transport, the recycling process, etc.), so companies are advised to take the time to plan these carefully and assess whether alternatives exist, in the spirit of preserving rather than destroying. To this end, DGNB has numerous publications on its website in which it shares the knowledge acquired. 

Finally, the need for international and cross-sectoral partnerships involving national and regional governments, businesses and knowledge centres was stressed, as well as the need to identify specific regional priorities, always within a common framework. 

Another essential area, to which the EU has demonstrated a continued commitment through the attention it devotes to it in the Fit for 55 packages, is the sustainable wood and biomass industry, which is now moving towards the creation of a nature-friendly economy that protects and restores degraded ecosystems. 

It should be remembered that no less than one-third of European territory is covered by forests (ecosystems highly exposed to the impact of climate change) and that wood, as a reusable material par excellence thanks to the many options for processing it, has an important role to play in reducing emissions, being a simple and cheap raw material that can be used in the manufacture of products and the construction of buildings (it is estimated that it should account for 30%). However, half of the wood harvested is still used as fuel.  

This is why many of the measures included in Fit for 55 aim at a major change in the requirements for the sustainability of biomass. In particular, the end of biomass subsidies has been set for 2027. 

As far as measurable targets are concerned, they are so far only to be found at national and even local levels. Again, the Netherlands has been one of the pioneering Member States in this respect. In its capital, the city of Amsterdam, one-fifth of all new buildings must be made of wood by 2025.  

However, although it is clear that it is not possible to continue building in the way it is done today, it must be remembered that the future should be hybrid, combining wood with other materials in any case, as it is not positive to focus on a single sustainable product. Moreover, wood will only be sustainable if the whole construction sector adopts it with the criteria to be agreed upon at the European and global levels. 

A third crucial area for the success of the circular transition is food waste and the bio-economy, a sector where the shift from a linear approach to circularity is unavoidable but complex. Currently, 75% of bio-waste is landfilled or incinerated, accounting for a not-insignificant share of emissions and pollution and causing annual costs in the EU amounting to 143 billion euros. 

Therefore, EU policies support this issue from multiple points of view: we can cite the Bioeconomy Strategy (updated in 2018), the financial effort made through Horizon Europe Cluster 6, the EU Platform on Food Losses and Food Waste or the HOOP project, launched within the Circular Cities and Regions Initiative included in the new Circular Economy Action Plan to support 8 'lighthouse' cities and regions (among them, a Spanish one: Murcia, whose City Council recently presented a Circular Economy Strategy) in developing large-scale urban circular bioeconomy initiatives focused on recovering valuable resources from biowaste and urban wastewater to produce bio-based products. It is possible to join this network through this link.  

At the municipal level, intending to foster cooperation and exchange of good practices, the City of Milan launched in 2015 an Urban Food Policy Pact open for signature by cities around the world, which has already been signed by more than 200 members committed to developing inclusive, resilient and safe food systems that provide healthy and affordable food to all people within a human rights-based framework, minimise waste and conserve biodiversity while adapting to and mitigating the impacts of climate change. 

On the business side, one company systematically focusing on the bioeconomy as a driver of circular transformation is Alchemia-Nova, which has developed several projects in recent years, including one that aims for an 'interconnected integrated biorefinery' that makes the most of agricultural waste materials to transform them into a spectrum of bio-based products. 

From an academic perspective, the University of Turin has been a pioneer in the design of educational projects focused on food circularity. Recent success stories include a free 4-week MOOC on circular business models for sustainable urban food systems, a hackathon designed to find digital tools and solutions to educate members of the urban food ecosystem and a project entitled 'Girls Go Circular' that aims to help 50,000 students aged 14-18 from across Europe develop digital and entrepreneurial skills by 2027 through an e-learning programme on the circular economy. 

The last of the conferences presented here was on the potential of circular procurement and taxation to move towards a circular economy. 

Public procurement is currently responsible for 15% of total global greenhouse gas emissions while accounting for 14% of EU GDP, which is why some Member States, such as Finland and Denmark, have started to quantify its climate impact by measuring the carbon footprint it generates. 

At the EU level, actions to improve and measure progress in this area are part of the broader 'green public procurement policy' or GPP promoted by the European Commission. At the moment, a set of criteria to facilitate the inclusion of green requirements in public procurement documents is available, as well as reports on various topics in more than 20 languages and a database with effective and inspiring examples. In the specific case of circular procurement, a brochure was published in 2017 containing a series of good practice studies as well as guidance on the integration of circular economy principles. 

Taxation is undoubtedly one of the areas where there is most room for improvement since there is consensus that the current tax architecture reinforces the linear model (for example, because it taxes only the purchase of the product instead of its entire life cycle) and, on top of that, it is households who currently bear most of the burden. Until now, the idea of 'green taxation' or 'green taxes' (which in any case represent tiny percentages and have even been reduced in recent years) has been used, but in the view of the experts who spoke, the EU's ambition should be greater and we need to start talking about 'circular taxation'. 

In conclusion, to date, only 8.6% of the economy can be considered circular, so there is still a lot of work to be done and, fortunately, there are many different fields from which we can contribute to the achievement of a new paradigm.

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