Nature provides solution

circular economy

 

 

The economy is a linear one. We extract the earth’s resources, make use of them and, subsequently, when they are beyond their useful life, we throw them away.

Clearly, the linear economy and its exponents assume that this pattern of behaviour can go on and on. However, in distinct contrast to this philosophy, the earth’s resources are limited and not infinite and consequently, a linear economy is unsustainable.

In contrast to the linear economy, the politics of sustainable development puts forward the circular economy alternative. This signifies that a product , instead of being thrown away and ending in its “grave” at the end of its useful life, gives birth to another product. This is the cradle-to-cradle philosophy, which Mother Earth has been using successfully for ages.

Nature in fact works in this manner. Take a look at any tree. At the appropriate time, it sheds its leaves, which disintegrate in the soil below. Nature does not waste the leaves shed by the tree, as they are reused and reabsorbed through the roots of the same tree as nutrients.

The circular economy is, hence, basically an imitation of nature. In environmental-speak we call this biomimicry.

Through the office of DG Environment, the European Commission, in August 2014, published a scoping study “to identify potential circular economy actions, priority sectors, material flows & value chains”.

The circular economy deals with much more than waste prevention and waste reduction. Eco-design is one particular area of action. Through eco-design the circular economy seeks to eliminate waste at the drawing board. When product ideas are still in the conceptual stage, eco-design is the tool through which such products can be planned in such a manner that they create less and less waste. This is done through subjecting the constitutive elements of the product being designed to a lifecycle assessment: that is from extraction up to end of life.

This assessment leads to the identification of all the environmental impacts of a product. Consequently the options that result in the least environmental impacts can be selected. In addition, a lifecycle assessment will also point to the best materials to be used, such that, at the end of its useful life, a product could be easily recycled.

 

In their book Cradle to Cradle: Remaking the way we make things William McDonough and Michael Braungart focus specifically on this aspect. They identify specific industrial and commercial initiatives which seek to dematerialise the economy as a result of which we end up doing more with less. The same level of service is achieved but, in the process, has substantially fewer material inputs: practical resource efficiency.

In addition to saving on material costs as well as energy, the transition from a linear to a circular economy presents numerous potential benefits. In particular, it attracts additional investment and can create thousands of jobs that realistically contribute to making the world a better place to live in.

Since last May and ending next month, the European Commission is carrying out a public consultation to be in a position to present a circular economy strategy that would be more ambitious than the that put forward by the Barroso Commission.

In the EU Roadmap for a Circular Economy strategy, the clear focus is on innovation and job creation placed within the wider EU commitment to sustainable development. The EU wants to decouple the strategy from waste management and, as a result, to factor in other policies such as competitiveness, research and innovation, environment protection, job creation and economic growth as the practical objectives of a revised circular economy strategy.

Addressing the 2015 European Circular Economy Conference last March, European Environment Commissioner Karmenu Vella emphasised that, in a circular economy, sustainability is inbuilt into the fabric of society.

I will go one further : the circular economy, if allowed to operate, will decrease the incompatibilities between the economy and nature. It will bring us closer to reality: that we live in an ecosystem which must be respected at all times and at all costs.

published in the Times of Malta : Thursday 13 July 2015

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Tackling the green skills gap

green skills 3

Launching the public consultation on the Green Economy last month, Ministers Leo Brincat and Evarist Bartolo emphasised the need to address the green skills gap in the process leading to a Green Economy strategy and action plan.

It is estimated that 20 million jobs will be created in the Green Economy between now and 2020 within the European Union. Capacity building is the greatest challenge: ensuring that more working men and women are adequately equipped with green skills.

The Green Economy includes activities in different sectors. It is possible to go about activity in these sectors in a manner which reduces their environmental impacts, is socially inclusive and economically rewarding.

Various sectors have been identified as being of key importance in the transition to a Green Economy. The basic characteristics which distinguish the Green Economy are a reduction of carbon emissions, the reduction of all forms of pollution, energy and resource efficiency, prevention of biodiversity loss  and the protection of eco-system services.

The United Nations Environment Programme  has repeatedly emphasised that the transition to a Green Economy enables economic growth and investment while increasing environmental quality and social inclusiveness. A Green Economy is one which respects the eco-system and recognises that there are natural limits  which, if exceeded, endanger the earth’s ecological balance. In effect it means that the transition to a Green Economy signifies addressing all of our environmental impacts in all areas of activity. Addressing impacts in one area would still signify progress although this would be of limited benefit.

An agriculture which forms part of the Green Economy is one which works with nature, not against it. It uses water sustainably and does not contaminate it. Green agriculture does not seek to genetically modify any form of life nor to patent it.

Energy efficient buildings, clean and renewable energy together with the sustainable use of land are also basic building blocks of the Green Economy. We cannot speak of the Green Economy whilst simultaneously tolerating  large scale building construction. Having a stock of 72,000 vacant dwellings, (irrespective of the reasons for their being vacant) signifies that as a nation we have not yet understood that the limited size of the Maltese islands ought to lead to a different attitude. The green skills of politicians and their political appointees on MEPA is what’s lacking in this regard.

Maritime issues are of paramount economic importance to Malta’s economy. The depleted fish stock and the quality of sea water are obvious issues. But the impacts of organised crime through the dumping of toxic, hazardous and nuclear waste in the Mediterranean Sea is not to be underestimated as has been evidenced time and again in the exploits of the eco-mafia reign to our north.

Heavy industry is fortunately absent in Malta. New industries like the pharmaceutical industry are more eco-conscious. However we still require more inputs on resource efficiency and eco-design.

Greening tourism is essential in order to ensure that more of tourism’s environmental impacts are addressed.  The consumption of tourism is 50% more per capita than that registered for a resident, indicating that there is room for considerable improvements.

Public transport is still in shambles. The effects of this state of affairs is evident in the ever increasing number of passenger cars on our roads which have a major impact on air and noise pollution in our communities. Greening transport policies signifies that the mobility of all is ensured with the least possible impacts.  Still a long way to go.

Waste management has made substantial improvement over the years even though it is still way  behind EU targets. It is positive that the draft waste management strategy has established the attaining of a Zero Waste target by 2050. However we still await the specifics of how this is to be achieved. It is achievable but the commitment of all is essential.

Our water resources have been mismanaged, year in, year our. Discharging millions of litres of treated sewage effluent into the sea is just the cherry on the cake. The contaminated and depleted water table which still contributes around 40% to Malta’s potable water supply is in danger of being  completely lost for future generations if we do not act fast.

All the above have been dealt with in various policy documents. One such document is the National Sustainable Development Strategy which establishes the parameters for the action required. Implementing the National Sustainable Development Strategy is the obvious first step in establishing a Green Economy.  It is here where the real green skill gap exists. Decision makers lack green skills. This skill gap exists at the level of Cabinet, Parliament, the top echelons of the civil service and in the ranks of the political appointees to Boards and Authorities where decisions are taken and strategies implemented.

When this skill gap is addressed, the rest will follow and we will be on the way to establishing  a green economy.

published in The Times of Malta, Saturday 14 December 2013

Towards a Circular Economy

circular economy

In a recent interview EU Environment Commissioner Januz Potočnik stated that the European Union is en route to the circular economy. A step which he described as being essential in ensuring the EU’s competitiveness.

The circular economy, in contrast to the linear economy is one which respects nature and seeks to utilise the earth’s resources in a sustainable manner.

The linear economy is based on a take-make-waste model, extracting raw materials from the earth and dumping the resulting waste after use.  This is a cradle to grave path for raw materials. The EU’s waste management strategy in conjunction with its Roadmap to a Resources Efficient Europe seeks to decouple the generation of waste from economic growth thus nudging the EU towards a new path: one of green growth.

This is also the basic philosophy of the Waste Management Strategy proposed by the Environment Ministry in Malta and currently subject to public consultation.

Malta’s proposed Waste Management Strategy advocates a policy of waste minimisation, that is, we must make an effort to avoid use of resources whenever possible. In addition it then advocates recycling the waste which is generated. This is done by tackling different waste streams in a manner most appropriate to the materials used in that specific stream. 2050 is the Malta target for achieving a Zero Waste society. An achievable target only if we get down to business immediately.

Waste separation is  an essential prerequisite in order to ensure that effective recycling takes place.   As a result of recycling, the waste from a specific product or process feeds a separate process. This is the manner in which nature functions. Have you ever noted how a tree sheds its leaves? How these leaves slowly decompose and nourish the soil, micro-organisms, insects and plants and actually feed the surrounding eco-system?

We have a lot to learn from nature. Biomimicry, imitating nature, is in fact a branch of study which seeks to apply nature’s lessons to solve many modern day problems. Discarding our throwaway attitudes is one such basic lesson.

Modern manufacturing is characterised by a cradle to grave design. It is the result of a society accustomed to throw away products once their useful life ends.

Applying nature’s lessons hence signifies manufacturing products whose life cycle is no longer one which leads from the cradle (production) to their grave (disposal). Instead of being discarded at the end of its useful life a product gives birth to something else through recycling. Just like nature does when dealing with the tree’s leaves. The cradle to grave cycle needs to be transformed into a cradle to cradle cycle.

This obviously has an impact on the manner in which products are designed.  In their  book  Cradle to Cradle, remaking the way we make things, American Architect William McDonough and German Chemist Michael Braungart explain that life cycle thinking, instead of filtering out the undesirable substances and toxins in a product at the end of the manufacturing process filter them out at the beginning, that is on the drawing board.

A waste management strategy which is based on a resource management approach is linked to these long term aims. It is a long process but one which is finally rewarding.

By separating our waste we facilitate its recycling. When recycling takes place we reduce the take-up of the earth’s resources and consequently avoid using the energy required to extract more resources from the earth.

All this shifts the focus from economic growth linked to activities which harm our surroundings to economic activity which enhances them. This leads to the creation of  green jobs.  It shifts our thinking to one which links prosperity with environment protection.

Resource efficiency is at the core of Europe’s 2020 strategy. It does not only mean doing more with less, that is, being eco-efficient. It requires also being eco-effective, that is ensuring that the consideration of long term impacts features in all our decisions. That means designing the present with the future in mind.

A waste management policy based on resource efficiency is an essential tool in this respect. This is just one example. Plenty of other examples can be found in appropriate policies to manage our water resources, our land use, our heritage.

All this leads back to the circular economy which is not just a green way of organising our economy.  It is a different way of life. A way of life which is not antagonistic to our surroundings but one which is in harmony with them.

This is what sustainable development is all about. It seeks to redimension the manner we think.. Having just one Earth we must realise that we cannot have another try if we succeed in ruining the present one.  There is no Plan B.

The circular economy is an adequate tool which can set us back on track.

published in The Times, Saturday November 2, 2013

Id-diżonesta fiskali tal-Partit Laburista fil-Gvern

carrots

Fit-Times ta’ dal-għodu u fil-gazzetti l-oħra fi ġranet oħra hemm kumment dwar dak li ġej fil-budget li jmiss.

Waqt il-Kampanja Elettorali ta’ Marzu li għaddiet il-Labour Party ta’ Malta wiegħed li ser iwettaq dak li kien diga wiegħed il-PN fil-budget li ma kienx approvat u ċjoe li l-Income Tax tonqos.  Il-PN ukoll kien qiegħed iwiegħed li jwettaq dik il-wegħda.

Alternattiva Demokratika kienet iddikjarat dakinnhar li dan kollu kien falz. Kienu wegħdiet diżonesti tal-Partit Laburista u tal-PN għax jekk id-dħul tal-Gvern kien ser jonqos minħabba t-tnaqqis mit-taxxa tad-dħul il-Gvern ried ta’ bil-fors jikkumpensa b’xi mod ieħor:  jew billi jintroduċi taxxi ġodda inkella billi jnaqqas l-infieq. U billi l-infieq ma kienx jidher li ser jonqos bil-fors kellhom jiżdiedu t-taxxi.

Il-Partit Laburista dejjem wieġeb li ma kellux il-ħsieb li jżid it-taxxi għax l-ekonomija kienet ser tikber, qaluna. U jekk tikber l-ekonomija jiżdied id-dħul tal-Gvern, biżżejjed biex jagħmel tajjeb għat-tnaqqis tal-Income Tax.

Għal darba oħra issa Alternattiva Demokratika qed tingħata raġun.

Fil-budget li ser jipproponi l-Ministru Edward Scicluna f’Novembru li ġej ser jiżdiedu t-taxxi indiretti b’€50 miljun. Dawk it-taxxi jiġifieri li ma jiddependux fuq id-dħul tal-individwu. Mela l-partit politiku li jippretendi li hu progressiv naqqas taxxa progressiva li permezz tagħha jħallas iktar min jiflaħ l-iktar u minflok ser jagħtina taxxi li jħallashom kulħadd. Kemm min jiflaħ kif ukoll min ma jiflaħx.

Il-Partit Laburista Malti kien diżonest meta wiegħed li jnaqqas it-taxxa tad-dħul.

Nistennew u naraw x’inhu ġej.

A Green New Deal is required

published January 9, 2010

by Carmel Cacopardo

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In the aftermath of the Copenhagen Climate Summit, fingers have been pointed at China and the US as the perceived culprits for the summit’s failure. The real fault lies elsewhere as the culprit is subservience to competition policy. Economic efficiency on its own does not lead to the right choices as the choices required are not just of an economic nature. They are in addition and simultaneously of a social, environmental and ethical nature.

Human beings are an integral part of an ecological system. This basic fact has to be the constant point of reference in all decisions taken. Unfortunately, it is however continuously ignored.

Subjecting nature to the economy is not possible in the long- term. Nature reacts whenever it considers that this is necessary in order to restore its ecological balance.

In the process, it wipes out of existence all that lies in its path. This has been going on for ages. Climate change is just the latest manifestation of this basic rule: nature always reigns supreme.

The earth’s resources are limited and, consequently, they cannot fuel infinite economic growth. There are limits to growth, which should lead developed countries to consider decoupling prosperity and economic growth.

This is a policy issue the United Kingdom Sustainable Development Commission is discussing. It is addressed in a study authored by Tim Jackson from the University of Surrey and is entitled Prosperity Without Growth: The Transition To A Sustainable Economy.

The pursuit of economic growth as the single most important policy goal is in conflict with the earth’s limited resource base and the fragile ecosystem of which we are a part and on which we depend for survival.

While economic growth is supposed to deliver prosperity, it has instead delivered climate change, fuel insecurity, sky-high commodity prices, collapsing biodiversity, reduced access to water and an ever-increasing global inequality. These are all issues whose tackling cannot be postponed to the next generation.

Progress is measured through the Gross Domestic Product (GDP). GDP measures everything except that which makes life worthwhile.

It is just concerned with material wealth ignoring in the process our health, education, the safety of our streets, the social tissue of society… It includes the production of armaments and the destruction of the environment carried out in the name of progress as well as the television programmes that glorify violence in order to sell toys to our children.

In an EU-sponsored conference in 2007, entitled Beyond GDP: Measuring Progress, True Wealth And The Economic Well-Being Of Nations, a common thread running through the proceedings was that decision-making requires a vision based on the role of the human person within an ecological setting. If all humankind lived as the developed world, the resources of three earths would not suffice. This is the challenge of the emerging economies: they want their fair share of the earth’s resources.

The insistence of China, India, Brazil and South Africa reflected in the Copenhagen Accord (subsequently adopted by the US too) that the principle of common and differentiated responsibility should be the basis of a post-Kyoto agreement signifies that equity not competition should rule the roost.

The Copenhagen accord, though noted by the international community, is non-binding and will not be easily accepted by Parliaments in the developed world as an equitable tool to tackle climate change.

The principle of common and differentiated responsibility was successfully applied in the Montreal Protocol of 1987 relative to the elimination of CFCs (chlorofluorocarbons) and the protection of the ozone layer.

When this principle is applied to climate change, as proposed by the Copenhagen Accord, it signifies that the international community recognises that each and every state is contributing to the accumulating disaster but that the responsibility to act differs.

The differentiation depends on the manner in which countries have contributed to the problem.

Those countries that have been emitting greenhouse gases since the industrial revolution should shoulder a larger share of the global cost of mitigation measures.

They also have the duty to assist other states in adapting not just by financing the changes required but also through facilitating the transfer of know-how and technology.

Commitment of billions of euros in aid has been made by both the EU and the US. Throwing monies at problems has never solved them! What is required is a green new deal, an integrated policy approach to the multiple crises the earth is facing. It is an approach proposed by the European Green Party during the 2009 elections for the European Parliament calling for the ecological transformation of the European economy.

Addressing the impacts of climate change cannot be divorced from the need to restructure the economy to one which is not dependent on carbon: an economy that considers its ecological impacts on the drawing board and not as an afterthought.

This is the only way forward.