September 13, 2021
This guest post also appears on Circular Economy Leadership Canada's website.
Canada will be hosting the World Circular Economy Forum (WCEF2021) this week, culminating over three years of effort by the federal government, Sitra, Circular Economy Leadership Canada, and several partners who have been keen to see this important global event come for the first time to North America. It will be attended by over 8,000 online delegates, including senior representatives from industry, governments, investors, NGOs, and the public from over 130 countries.
This event signals that a growing number of business leaders, policymakers, supply chain experts, economists, researchers, and environmentalists are seeing North America’s involvement in the global circular economy as critical to addressing the unprecedented and unsustainable social, economic, and environmental challenges that are the defining issues of our times.
While the term circular economy may be new to many, it is increasingly used to describe a much-needed alternative to the linear economy – the take-make-waste approach that causes pollution, biodiversity loss, climate change, the depletion of natural resources, and the harmful effect these are collectively having on our cities, farms, waterways, social well-being, and the economy.
Ultimately, a circular economy is about creating a closed-loop system that keeps products and materials delivering value within the economy for as long as possible, while ensuring they are kept out of the environment. Achieving this at scale will require significant shifts in how we design, manufacture, use, reuse, repurpose, and recycle the products we need at work and at home.
While our understanding of its benefits are improving over time, current estimates indicate that the transition to a circular economy could lead to a US$4.5 trillion boost to the global economy by 2030, US$25 trillion by 2050, and could potentially achieve a 40%-50% deeper reduction in annual global GHG emissions.
But who will benefit most from this global transition? How long will it take? What are the potential risks and opportunities for Canada – a resource rich country? How will it impact jobs, productivity, and trade with Europe, Asia, and other parts of the world that are far ahead of North America in their adoption of circular economy approaches? How might we need to modify how we work across industries, institutions, and jurisdictions, and how will all of this impact our ambitions for a stronger and more inclusive economy?
These are some of the questions that will be tackled at WCEF2021. With a great line-up of sessions and speakers, there is no doubt this will be an exciting and informative event. But what then? How do we translate these ideas and insights – and the growing body of research on these topics – into concrete action, new technologies, innovative public-private partnerships, and shifts in consumer behaviour – to reap the many economic and environmental benefits of a circular economy?
To start with, we will need a clear and compelling vision for what Canada’s contribution will be to the global circular economy, and we’ll need a national strategy or roadmap to get there. We’ll need significant investments in research, product development, and the systems and infrastructure required for a made-in-Canada circular economy. Chemists, bioengineers, product designers, business leaders and others will need new skills for this emerging paradigm, and our definitions of success may need realignment.
This is complex work. It will span decades and will require an ‘all hands on deck’ approach, with new levels of collaboration by one and all. No single government, industry, or organization will be able to do it alone. Instead, we will need a well-designed and well resourced multi-stakeholder network of networks or a ‘supercluster’ that is singularly focused on advancing a prosperous and sustainable circular economy for Canada.
In the weeks and months that follow WCEF 2021, representatives of Circular Economy Leadership Canada will be reaching out to engage new industry partners and all levels of government in developing a national circular economy innovation network that can seize the opportunity before us.
For now, however, we reflect back on our attendance at WCEF 2018 in Japan when we joined the Government of Canada in submitting Canada’s bid to host this global forum, and our successful participation in WCEF 2019 in Helsinki where we forged partnerships and connections with circular economy leaders from around the world. We are excited this idea has now come to fruition and are pleased to be one of two official Canadian co-organizing partners of this event. In this role, we have been involved in designing or delivering 4 Game Changer and Demonstration sessions, 7 Accelerator sessions, and 10 WCEF side events and hope that you will join one or more of these.
We also invite you to return to this site later in the week when our colleagues will be presenting blog posts that explore various perspectives and angles of the circular economy in Canada.