Without leadership in governments, we have “no chance” when it comes to transitioning to a circular economy and achieving the UN’s global Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), according to former EU commissioner for the environment, Dr Janez Potočnik.
Dr Potočnik (pictured) gave his keynote address to delegates at day 2 of this year’s Resourcing the Future Conference (RtF), where he touched on the subject of population growth and how this is affecting resource consumption, the circular economy and the UN’s SDGs, and also Brexit and globalisation.
He opened with a few hard-hitting statistics, among them that population is up by a factor of 3.7, while extraction of construction materials is up by a factor of 34.
By 2050, global population will have reached almost 10bn, and middle class consumption continues to rise. As it stands, the richest 1% of the world have more wealth than the rest of the world combined.
This rapid population growth is putting a strain on global resources, such as food and natural materials. Dr Potočnik said managing food production needs to be reviewed as this is connected to other problem areas, such as climate change.
“I firmly believe that we will need a government of that kind on a global scale if we want to avoid the conflicts in the future… So countries gave up some of their responsibilities to a higher level because we need to manage some of the problems which we have, and from that point of view of course Brexit is actually tragic.”
He said real sustainability comes from the developed part of the world, pointing to figures that show the more developed a country is, the less sustainable it becomes.
He said despite population growth, consumption has been the bigger driver in material use between 1970-2010, and that materials efficiency has declined.
Financial capital is over valued, he said, human capital is under valued… while natural capital is “not valued” at all. He said “environmental costs” exist whether we accept it or not and governments should not focus on economic growth alone.
Dr Potočnik was the creator of the EU’s original Circular Economy Package back in 2014. He spoke to delegates at this year’s Resourcing the Future Conference 2017, a flagship event under the partnership of CIWM, ESA, Resource Association and WRAP.
Dr Potočnik went on to say that there is a need for leadership on a global platform, saying the EU is the “best global governance pilot” for this, but that there is a need for clear vision and leadership, which he says is currently lacking.
With regard to Brexit and globalisation, and how this is affecting resources and political systems, Dr Potočnik said that any global transition is a major new opportunity for innovation, new development opportunities and new jobs.
He said: “I firmly believe that we will need a government of that kind [sic] on a global scale if we want to avoid the conflicts in the future… So countries gave up some of their responsibilities to a higher level because we need to manage some of the problems which we have, and from that point of view of course Brexit is actually tragic.”
He also stressed the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) need to be taken seriously if we are to avoid “globally extensive and inter-systemic crisis and frequent conflicts”.
He said implementing the SDGs should be the priority of governments and should be linked to “core economic policy decisions”. He said it’s about system change and that without leadership and improved “global governance”, the SDGs are only “wishful thinking”.
Leadership On All Levels
Dr Potočnik stressed that a transition to a new economic model that integrates all pillars of sustainability should be at the fore of global attention, and that trade-offs among various SDGs are “unavoidable”. But he said sustainable consumption and production is the best way to avoid them.
Speaking to CIWM Journal Online after the session, Dr Potočnik said that leadership “comes from everywhere” and that the challenges we are globally facing require better global leadership.
“I’m simply happy that the circular economy idea has survived and is back on the agenda, even more than it was during my time [at the Commission]”
“I’m really happy that we have adopted the SDGs, which for me are a kind of new global contract for humanity, that we understand we have to change some of the behaviour that wasn’t, in the past, leading us in the right direction,” he said.
“But if we wait, as individuals or as companies, for leadership to come from the higher levels, then we will absolutely miss all of the opportunities. We all need to be the leaders on our own level, if we want the change to happen.”
When asked whether the new incarnation of the Circular Economy Package is the “right” package, Dr Potočnik said: “I’m simply happy that the circular economy idea has survived and is back on the agenda, even more than it was during my time [at the Commission]. During my time it was considered to be more of an environmental package and when it’s an environmental package people assume this will have a negative effect on economic development.”
He said it’s now starting to be understood that it’s is an “economic package” with beneficial side effects on environmental health. He said when there is that kind of understanding of the circular economy, there’s a higher chance of gaining support.
Look out for the full video interview with Dr Potočnik coming soon.
On day one of the conference, Baroness Parminter, Liberal Democrat Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (EFRA) spokesperson, House of Lords, said the Government should establish an office of environmental responsibility. To read the story in full CLICK HERE