Critical Assessment of Circularity
by Teodor Kalpakchiev
Mainstreaming Circularity Globally
In the course of four years, the Circular Economy has managed to become the new buzzword among policy, business and development professionals, largely due to EU’s efforts to put it on the top of its environmental policy that permeates strongly into the single market.
Indeed, the Circular Economy has shifted the focus to numerous solutions such as product durability on the micro level, cogeneration and other forms of resource exchange on the meso level, as well as the infusion of ashes into the built urban environment and infrastructure. Yet, the circular bio-economy (e.g. fertilizers and biogas from food waste, growing fisheries on land, using renewable wood for construction and interior, creating renewable energy from marine bio-resources and waste, the already mentioned carbon capture), still holds enormous potential for transformation. The circular economy could actually be the answer both to the Kohlenausstieg process, as heating and cooling’s demand for electricity can be halved through cogeneration and the societal adjustment to digitalization of professions.
Additionally, it has granted EU businesses good matching opportunities with their counterparts in various locations around the globe, chosen strategically from a subjective point of view, as they include large emergent economies (China, South Africa), trade partners (Japan, Mexico) and UNFCCC hosts (Chile). This constellation aims to foster another version of the impossible trinity that consists of global growth, sustainability and equity.
The Problem with Coherence in the Governance of Sustainable Development
Marrying together the first two has relied heavily on free trade for all, whereby asymmetries adjusted with supply-push investment incentives have been the norm (in ACP), resulting in growth to the expense of natural capital. State-led certification schemes have become a target for counterfeiters, while private certification schemes have resulted in a plethora of consumer dazzling palette of deception.
Decarbonisation strategies, on the other hand, perceive biomass, including forests as a more sustainable fuel than primary natural gas, thus supporting the actual burning of wood-based products and bypassing the potential of carbon sequestration. EU’s top-down and bottom-up governance mechanisms also have failed to produce policy coherence by including forests as carbon sinks into the emission trading system, thus transforming them into a viable investment opportunity at the heart of sustainable development and fail to support the recycling of carbon from the atmosphere into a secondary alternative biofuel. On the other end of the nexus, sustainability and equity remain detached – supply-push incentives and regulation have triggered a wave of discontent with the pace of transformation among the elderly and an intergenerational disruption between their goals and those of the next generation. The hardest question therefore remains how to make sure social equity is working together with sustainability.
Capital-driven Sustainability Takes no Account of Natural Capital
The involvement of business in financial blending activities has leased credibility to it as a development actor and albeit some MNCs see benefit in their CSR activities, many still rely on inflating a balloon of certifications that do not result in solutions. For example, palm oil certifications do not necessarily take into account the water drainage of peak soil that releases carbon into the atmosphere or the usage of bio-fertilizers instead of chemicals. It goes without saying that responsible businesses are the driving engine of circularity, however, one should also keep good trach of developments such as dematerialization and the transition towards a service economy, as they effectively allow MNCs to retain control over both intellectual property and natural resources. In it consumers would be trapped into serving their leasing contracts and falling out of employment could prove fatal. Nevertheless, a leasing economy could provide an impetus for reducing working hours and shifting the generation of welfare towards non-monetary benefits that are free for all.