Developing economies will struggle to grow sustainably without significant investment in recycling, reusing and repairing used raw materials and products, according to new research from Chatham House.
The paper looks at opportunities to coordinate regional trade policies and investment programmes to “rapidly scale up” the circular economy in the developing world.
It found that “insufficient” attention has been paid to circular economy pathways in developing countries, despite “considerable innovation and policy progress”.
It says there is an urgent need to widen the global circular economy conversation to include developing countries and to invest political and financial capital in promoting the development of an inclusive, global circular economy.
Developed-country governments have an important role to play in facilitating a meaningful dialogue on how the international dynamics of circular economypolicies may best be managed.
“The next two years present a moment of opportunity to develop a global vision for the circular economy aligned with climate action and the broader sustainable development agenda,”
Support from international agencies such as the UN Industrial Development Organization (UNIDO) and the UN Environment Programme (UNEP) will be critical to facilitating the piloting of CE solutions among small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) in developing countries and along international value chains to demonstrate the viability of cross-border circular value chains at scale.
It also says proactive engagement by multinational companies with suppliers in developing countries – including SMEs and those operating in the informal sector – will be necessary for circular activities to be scaled up in a manner that is inclusive and avoids the displacement of vulnerable workers.
The CE continues to be understood primarily as a waste management and recycling strategy, but the economic opportunities are far broader and more diverse, the report states, saying the CE offers a “promising alternative strategy for industrial development and job creation to the traditional manufacturing-led growth pathway”.
With the right enabling conditions, the circular economy could provide new opportunities for economic diversification, value creation and skills development.
“The next two years present a moment of opportunity to develop a global vision for the circular economy aligned with climate action and the broader sustainable development agenda,” the report states. “There is much scope for aligning circular economy strategies with climate action and sustainable development commitments at the national and international level.
“Key international milestones in global climate change talks, in the delivery of the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and in the agreement of a global treaty on biodiversity protection in 2019 and 2020 present a unique opportunity to integrate the circular economyinto existing global political and environmental agendas and catalyse increased public and private investment in the roll-out and scale-up of CE solutions in developing countries.”