Ladies and gentlemen,
I am happy to welcome you to the 2022 edition of the Circular Economy Stakeholder Conference, our joint initiative with the European Commission.
It is a great honour for me to be here today, surrounded by so many stakeholders: businesses, consumers, academia, policy makers and many more. You are the key to accelerate the Circular Economy: by building networks, sharing best practises and strategies.
Unfortunately, current circumstances put us in ever worse situation than before. Russia's aggression against Ukraine comes first and foremost with human suffering of Ukrainian people. It will also impact the EU economy – in particular through higher global energy prices, which will affect countries, businesses, and individual people. This is just one of many reasons to step up our efforts in the circular economy, in order to build a sustainable, just and inclusive future for Europe, for the benefit of our businesses and our people, and to boost the EU's strategic autonomy.
To give some concrete numbers- Half a trillion tonnes of virgin materials. That is the amount of resources consumed globally over the past six years. This means that 70% more virgin materials were extracted than what the Earth can safely replenish. We must stop this path!
Shifting to a Circular Economy can help reverse this trend. We have to fully exploit its enormous potential to deliver economic, social and environmental benefits. We must decouple our economic growth from our resource consumption.
In the next two days we will explore together different ways to achieve our circular economy' goals. Key to success will be:
o One: we need to limit the depletion of our planet's finite resources,
o Two: we need to fundamentally change the way we consume and produce, and
o Three: we need to optimise the way we manage our waste.
As we start to move beyond the health crisis- recovery funding dedicated to the green transition has been made available. But it is crucial that we co-create circular solutions and ensure access to funding.
Today, only 8.6% of the world economy is circular: the latest Circularity Gap Report has revealed how linear the world still is.
It will take a collective effort to unlock the regenerative potential of a Circular Economy. The required systemic transformation of our economy needs to go hand in hand with innovative practices on the ground – beyond top down policies.
That is what our European Circular Economy Stakeholder Platform is all about: bringing together stakeholders to drive, guide and scale up strategies and practices that regenerate our economy. I am proud that the EESC as representative of organised civil society at EU level has contributed together with the European Commission to shaping a vibrant community of practice.
Let me emphasise how collaboration in the Circular Economy translates the European Green Deal into a fair, sustainable and prosperous economy. The Green Deal will only be successful if policy meets practice. Only if the EU model results in a thriving economy, can it act as a frontrunner to be emulated by the rest of the world – and ensure that nobody is left behind in Europe.
Two years ago this month, the Commission unveiled the new Circular Economy Action Plan. This plan was designed to empower consumers, lessen waste, and shape future sustainable products.
Since its launch, the Action Plan's proposals have been actively taken up by the Platform's stakeholders. They have continued to exchange lessons learnt and good practices in circular themes ranging from cities to bio-economy to buildings and infrastructure to economic incentives and climate.
The EESC looks forward to the forthcoming Sustainable Products Initiative as a central part of the circular framework to achieve the EU's climate goals. Yes, we have reached a milestone that will change the whole constellation of European products.
Keeping products in optimal use for as long as possible yields the greatest environmental and social benefit, and that is exactly where the Sustainable Products Initiative comes in. It can be a game-changer for products placed in the single market, as sustainable products are becoming the norm rather than the exception. It should bring about a sense of ownership for businesses and consumers alike.
Because just like businesses, with a growing consumption rate, empowering consumers plays an indispensable part in the Circular Economy. This goes beyond the need for transformative education, communication and awareness raising. Consumers must get clear and relevant information, reflected on the product label, but also the right to repair will play an increasingly important role in the future.
As consumers demand better and faster services, we must seize the opportunity to shift from quantity to quality, from volume to performance. And from consuming resources to using services.
Allow me to share some encouraging news. Circularity through sustainable production and consumption is already happening on the ground. Just to name a few:
o As consumers we can shop online and physically in spaces dedicated to selling circular products.
o We have companies producing circular mobile phones.
o We have European projects that promote innovative solutions for sustainable tourism.
o I could go on … but instead I invite you to visit the 700 good practices showcased on the stakeholder platform.
I would further stress that promoting the Circular Economy goes beyond the social, economic and environmental aspect. It is Europe's key to ensure competitiveness, resilience and EU's autonomy. The Circular Economy's role in achieving the Green Deal represents an excellent opportunity for European industry. Civil society can ensure that the circular economy delivers sustainable results for our planet, promotes sustainable economic growth, creates new jobs, and protects us against scarcity of resources and volatile prices.
Recognised as a true circular leader, the European Union has the duty to ensure a true level playing field exists: competitors - be it within or beyond Europe – must adhere to the same environmental and social standards. That is why, we must involve global stakeholders if we are to achieve a truly circular world.
I was therefore delighted to see you, Mr Timmermans, opening the Circular Europe Days at the Dubai Expo last month, where the Platform’s Coordination Group showcased its work and engaged with the international Circular Economy community on the world stage.
Ladies and Gentlemen, one thing is clear. We must continue to promote the environmental, social and economic benefits of a more circular world; we must increase our efforts to capitalise on existing initiatives, partnerships and relevant stakeholders to unleash the full potential of the circular economy. Our Stakeholder Platform, the network of networks, is the tool to forge collaborations and share inspiring examples for the benefit of the planet and future generations.
Allow me to thank you for joining us today and tomorrow. Together, we all can make the Circular Economy a wide reaching reality in our lives – peaceful life!