Estonian Club of Rome chapter: Crisis creates circular economy opportunity ({{contentCtrl.commentsTotal}})

Club of Rome logo.
Club of Rome logo. Source: Wikimedia Commons.

The Estonian Association of the Club of Rome , an organization made up of former and current government leaders, bureaucrats, politicians, business leaders and other experts, says that economic recovery in the aftermath of the coronavirus pandemic will create an opportunity to switch to a predominantly circular economy, meaning a system which focuses on the continual use of resources and eliminating waste.

At the same time, the association says, it needs to be borne in mind that an economic downturn increases social tensions, which always brings with it a temptation to sacrifice natural capital and to live at the expense of the future, BNS reports.

This would mean a transition requiring direction, while avoiding simplistic approaches, across a vast array of sectors. An economy in renewal must be resistant to crises caused by outside conditions, the association went on.

Circular economy not a goal unto itself

A circular economy is not a goal in its own right, the association says, adding there is an optimal degree to its implementation, but at all times it must support the preservation of all services of ecosystems, and ensure well-being and achievement of the climate goals.

Such a system is possible only within certain limits; just as it is not possible an ideal form thermodynamically, the organization says, it is not possible in practice to keep all substances in circulation, with the circulation of some being too energy-intensive, according to BNS.

These limits can be shifted using novel technologies, which require a scientific basis and which in some cases need to be established almost from scratch.

Solutions are not within the reach of a single country, and Estonia must determine its role in the joint movement towards that goal, the association adds.

Circular economy objectives established at national level, including the objectives of recycling, must be topped up with public sector measures which support reaching the objectives.

While private sector investments have crucial potential in the implementation of  circular economy in practice, the public sector's purchasing power has a groundbreaking role in this process as a catalyst, one which must not be underestimated, the group finds.

Global association for a circular economy needed

The association supports a European Commission proposal to establish mandatory minimum criteria on the environmental impact of public procurements.

Each member state must impose higher criteria of its own, based on their local conditions. National reporting must be adapted for effective control over compliance with these criteria, the association says.

The Estonian Association for the Club of Rome supports the establishment of a global association for circular economy, while giving preference to representation of the EU to the individual representation of each member state.

Preference should also be given to the creation of a Europe-wide market for secondary raw materials, the association says, BNS reports.

Public procurement an effective tool

The association says public procurement is an effective tool for blazing the trail for a circular economy, by creating market demand for the output of companies which observe circular economy principles, including recycling. 

Support must be given to local government initiatives to draw up a regional circular economy development plan of their own, the association says, in a notice it is sending to the European Parliament, the European Council, the European Economic and Social Committee and the Committee of the Regions.

A circular economy also is a matter of culture, the organization says, according to BNS. Consumption and the frequent replacement of products which have not become technically obsolete  must give way to values which support sustainable development.

The association says, it would be fundamentally wrong to place responsibility for reaching these goals on the Ministry of the Environment. To bring circular economy to practice, a corresponding legal and economic environment have to be created and effective stimuli introduced, also on the level of local governments. Necessary supportive, specific and controllable regulations must be implemented for that -- a tax environment, resource and waste fees, conditions of public procurements and similar. The crucial role in this is played by the Ministry of Economic Affairs and Communications and the Ministry of Finance.

A circular economy development plan must also call for a new national industrial policy, in which, a stance must be taken on a product design supporting circular economy, energy efficiency, and shortening of supply chains.

Additionally, every large company needs a long-term strategy of its own. Development of small and medium-sized companies, whose role will grow under the conditions of circular economy, must also determine their long-term optimal structure.

It makes sense to follow in this the example of successful small states including Finland, Switzerland, Israel, New Zealand, and Ireland, the association finds.

Estonia has to analyze own product cycle

Estonia must ensure sufficient base financing of applied research in areas where the results to date have already demonstrated potential or where future activities require developing certain areas in the preparation of solutions for the circular economy, including energy and oil shale technologies, IT solutions, recycling of electronics waste, the depolymerization of plastics, the use of waste from mining of mineral resources and adding value to this, the disposal of old tires, and other areas, the association says.

The volume of the portion of the life cycle, value chain and raw material cycle of various products needs to take place in Estonia. If that proportion turns out to be small, the organization says Europe-wide standards should be applied, rather than domestic ones.

Environmental norms and the terms and conditions of mining permits also have to be analyzed; how much these facilitate or hinder the further use of byproducts of production or processed waste, according to the group.

Estonia also needs to analyze the use of building materials in advance, and assess the possibilities for their reuse.

IT sector uses finite resources too

Options for the reuse of byproducts of the mining industry need practical solutions as well, the group says, and assessments of the benefit of the use of a mineral resource as justifying, or otherwise, the spending of natural capital that this entails, should be in focus.

IT, communications and sustainable transport require the extraction of mineral resources, which themselves are in short supply globally, in ever increasing amounts.

Subterranean Estonia needs detailed exploration using contemporary methods to find out about its potential role in a circular economy, especially regarding rare earth metals and other chemical elements necessary in hi-tech equipment, the group says

How much of a reserve for the development of a circular economy in Estonia is entailed in the changes in land use should also be examined.

Finally, food supply chains require analysis, the group says The import of foodstuffs produced and consumed in Estonia from far-off countries has to be prudently restricted, giving preference to local produce, the association says.

The Club of Rome Estonia association's website is here.

The Club of Rome had its first major gathering 50 years ago, and was created to address multiple crises facing humanity and the planet.

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Editor: Andrew Whyte

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