The third World Circular Economy Forum  in Helsinki last week brought together circular economy leaders from the fields of business, policy, research and innovation. Here’s what you need to know

The climate-circular economy nexus

Circular economy is a key vehicle for mitigating climate change. “60% of the carbon emissions reductions that are needed to reach the Paris Agreement targets can be achieved through circular economy measures in heavy industry. And this is also the most cost-effective approach,” Peter Börkey, lead on waste management and resource productivity at the OECD, told the conference.

Today, a few key materials – steel, plastics, aluminium and cement – account for 20% of global emissions. If their use is unchecked, the emissions from the use of these materials alone will cause global warming of two degrees Celsius.

Materials efficiency, tackling food waste (one third of all the food produced in the world is wasted) and sharing goods instead of buying new ones are just some of the ways the circular economy can help battle climate change.

Cities as cradles and catalysts for the circular economy

With one main session and three side sessions on the role of cities, the topic was at the forefront of the debate. Cities consume 70% of global resources and generate 50% of all waste. Cities thus have a huge potential to become circular thanks to their:

  • Scale and concentration of people, businesses and resource flows that would allow them to create a real ecosystem for the efficient sharing of resources and goods
  • Independence in decision-making to influence the development of a circular economy through procurement of circular products, buildings, services. Circular procurement will also help growing cities prevent waste and tackle their waste challenges.

During the conference, the European Investment Bank highlighted its new publication The 15 Circular Steps for Cities, which offers a vision and toolbox to help cities in their transition to a circular economy. The EU bank also announced the upcoming publication of The Circular City Funding Guide, prepared with the support of the Advisory Hub.

Circular economy leaders: We need to move faster

The conference’s core message was “Scale it up!” Speakers consistently said that we are moving too slowly in the transition to a circular economy. While we know the solutions, we are not implementing them fast enough.

According to a Circularity Gap Report by Circle Economy, only 9% of our world is circular and we are heading in the wrong direction. Cooperation, global circular economy leadership and large-scale investments were seen as crucial for the circular economy to be realized.

“I am very impatient, but also optimistic because businesses get it. We do not need to wait 20 years, we can move much faster than we did with climate change,” said Stientje van Veldhoven, the Netherlands’ Environment Minister.

The Netherlands has set the ambitious target of becoming fully circular by 2050. A lot of other countries also have roadmaps, especially in the EU. But now the time has come for all sectors of society to implement them.

Together we need to follow the call of Hans Bruyninckx, executive director of the European Environment Agency: “Just do it!”

If you missed the conference, you can still watch all the recordings of the presentations here.

The European Investment Bank was a key partner in the conference, reaffirming its commitment to stepping up financing and advisory services for the circular economy. Over the last five years, the EU bank provided €2.3 billion to finance circular economy projects. Find out more about how the European Investment Bank is supporting the circular economy.