The circular economy in response to the crisis brought about by COVID-19

The second Diplocat Digital Talk has been jointly hosted with the Advisory Council for Sustainable Development (CADS)

On 29 June, Diplocat hosted the second debate in the Diplocat Digital Talks - The world after COVID-19 series in conjunction with the Catalan Government's Advisory Council for Sustainable Development (CADS). The topics discussed were the European Commission's Circular Economy Action Plan and the opportunities afforded by the COVID-19 crisis for this type of economy. Speakers from the Association of Internationalised Industries in Catalonia (AMEC) and the United Nations Environment Programme were accompanied by an analyst from the Institute for European Environmental Policy (IEEP) in the discussion.

Diplocat Secretary General Laura Foraster i Lloret introduced the event by setting out the Circular Economy Action Plan's crucial role. She pointed out that when the Plan was approved, nobody could have expected it to have the impact it might have on economic recovery following the COVID crisis.

Arnau Queralt-Bassa, Director of CADS and moderator of the debate, noted the significance of this conversation in this unprecedented situation and the growing inequalities which have emerged and need to be addressed sustainably.

Eloïse Bodin, a policy analyst at the Institute for European Environmental Policy (IEEP), underlined in her talk the importance of a green transition based on fairness and social solidarity by striking a balance between policies tackling economic inequalities and policies cutting pollution and carbon use. She pointed to the potential impact of the transition on job creation and the fact that sustainable enterprises are the most likely to weather crises and readjust. As for the cost of this transition, the IEEP has found that there are a number of ways in which it can be funded ranging from phasing out the pollution dividend to introducing new taxes and setting up incentives. Finally, Bodin also stressed the need to engage local stakeholders in the transition as they are more willing than states to implement these new measures.

Diego Guri, Deputy Director General at the Association of Internationalised Industries in Catalonia (AMEC) which is also a Diplocat member, presented the business standpoint on green transition. He set out the changes AMEC and its companies have made in terms of their business operations and model which has led them to rethink their mission and tailor it to contemporary transition needs. He argued that COVID has brought with it a new business opportunity in which many undertakings have decided to diversify their sectors and also rethought the uses of a range of materials. Based on these changes, the sustainability indicators used to drive collective growth ahead of individual growth need to be reworked, bearing in mind the particular needs of Europe and its industrial and competitiveness model which he thinks is different from and cannot be compared to its Asian and American counterparts. Guri also underscored the importance of institutions being consistent, with their discourses, tools, mechanisms and actions all pointing in the same direction of travel.

Llorenç Milà i Canals, Head of the Paris-based Secretariat of the Life Cycle Initiative in the United Nations Environment Programme, presented the UN's institutional standpoint on the issue. He looked at a number of current approaches to economic recovery and noted that most do not have a sustainable outlook but rather invest in industries which are harmful to the environment. He described several indicators for analysing sustainable investment and said that there are many options for this kind of venture. Hence what we need to do is identify them and invest in green sectors which on their own would not have the same opportunities because we are still in a fossil fuel-based society. Milà also argued that aside from the sustainability of investment, the sustainability of product manufacturing has to be factored in throughout the creative process, and like Bodin he acknowledged that the enterprises of the future will need to be robust so they can rethink their approach to change and be more sustainable and socially responsible.

To wrap up the speakers talked about economic growth and how it needs to change to be sustainable. They contended that one of the main issues to be tackled in this respect is redefining economic growth and success and changing the economic indicators on which today's society is based.