Circular model for our planet

10:25 | 29/05/2019
With the world currently having no clear circular economy pioneer, Finland is set to become the leading nation developing such an economy by 2025, with a series of solutions. Nguyen Thanh reports.  
circular model for our planet
Waste-to-energy projects are commonly seen in Finland, which is gearing up to become the world’s first circular economy

The World Circular Economy Forum 2019 (WCEF) will be organised on June 3-5, 2019 in the centre of the Finnish capital Helsinki.

The WCEF 2019 will have a strong emphasis on scaling up the circular economy transition. This involves growing investments into circular economy businesses, spreading and adopting new technologies and making significant regulatory changes that enable the circular economy to flourish.

Consisting of 17 plenary and parallel sessions with keynotes speeches, thematic discussions, and networking opportunities, the WCEF 2019 is expected to see the participation of about 2,000 people.

The WCEF, which is the global initiative of Finland and the Finnish Innovation Fund Sitra, examines how businesses can seize new opportunities, gain a competitive advantage through circular economy solutions and how the circular economy contributes to achieving the UN Sustainable Development Goals.

The first forum was organised in Helsinki in June 2017 with 1,600 participants from nearly 100 countries. In 2018, Sitra brought the concept to Yokohama of Japan where more than 1,100 circular economy experts discussed what we need to do to create a true circular economy by 2050.

The world is currently looking for a new industrial base now that countries are moving towards the post-petroleum era, while international investors are pulling out of businesses with high climate risks – and the circular economy is emerging as a key solution to prevent climate change and bring about the renewable energy revolution.

According to Sitra, the Finnish innovation fund operating under the direct supervision of the Finnish Parliament, the driving force for the circular economy roadmap was to turn the circular economy into a driver of growth, investment, and export for Finland. Sitra recently released a noteworthy study on a Finnish roadmap to a circular economy by 2025. The study cited cautious estimates that the circular economy would provide the Finnish economy with €2-3 billion ($2.23-3.35 billion) in added value by 2030. The machinery, equipment, and forest industries, as well as food waste reduction, altering the use of real estate, private consumption, secondhand trade, and nutrient recycling stand to gain the most.

The circular economy represents a significant opportunity to increase employment in Finland. According to a study by Club of Rome, a Switzerland-based organisation of individuals who share a common concern for the future of humanity and strive to make a difference, the full adoption of a circular economy would create more than 75,000 new jobs by 2030, especially in the areas of remanufacturing and recycling and in small- and medium-sized technology and service sector companies. Therefore, the Finnish government has set the target of making the country a global leader in circular economy by 2025 as the world currently has no clear circular economy pioneer. This goal is based on estimates of the major economic opportunities offered by the circular economy and on the need to reduce dependence on resources that are ecologically and economically unsustainable.

Goals to achieve

According to the Finnish government, in a circular economy, all materials are fully utilised and recycled, minimising waste. In a circular economy, products will be designed with reusing and recycling in mind, favouring renewable resources, services will replace products, and energy production will be based on renewable energy sources. The realisation of a circular economy will require significant changes at the social level and also in the choices made by private citizens and consumers. However, the opportunities for economic, ecological, and social well-being are so great that the commitment to a circular economy is gathering social momentum in Finland and around the world.

With this in mind, the Finnish government wants to build a circular connection among the economy, environment, and society. Specifically, the government envisions the circular economy as the new cornerstone of the Finnish economy.

“The circular economy will improve the competitiveness of Finland and Finnish organisations, which will be visible as new companies and new business, increasing turnover and new innovations,” stated the Sitra study. “Circular economy solutions will become an export advantage for Finland and the number of companies with a desire to internationalise will increase.”

Besides, reformed funding models will support circular economic growth. Public procurement and new private and public co-operation and financing instruments, such as impact investment and co-operatives, will be used.

The Finnish government envisioned to turn Finland into a model country dealing with the challenge of scarcity, with a more efficient material cycle, and non-renewable natural resources to be replaced by renewables, taking Finland towards a carbon-neutral and waste-free society.

Furthermore, the circular economy will be taken into account when determining policy instruments for social actions. The public sector will participate in the circular economy breakthrough in a broad-based manner. Public-private partnerships will play a key role and people’s awareness of the circular economy will be improved, leading to a renewal of domestic market demand and focus on circular economy products and services. “Consumers will adopt new consumption models, which will be visible as, for example, growth in the shared service offerings and recycling services,” said the Sitra study.

According to Kimmo Tiilikainen, Finnish Minister of the Environment, Energy and Housing, the circular economy roadmap brings together a large number of existing pilot projects, such as an initiative to recover waste heat, investment in the use of biogas for transport, the Helsinki region’s plans to switch to high-blend biofuels, a research project on new cellulose-based materials, and plans in the Lappeenranta region to switch from using imported fossil fuels to local renewable energy for its transport needs.

Solutions

In its development strategy to become the world’s first circular economy, the Finnish government will focus on many different solutions, with, for instance, the improvement of the country’s transport and logistics quality. The goal of this focus area is for Finland to be recognised as a country in which seamless and smart transport is developing in a fossil-free direction and logistics forms the cornerstone of the circular economy.

Mobility as a service, sharing economy transport solutions, and optimised and clean transport will take the energy and resource efficiency of transport and logistics to a new level.

To implement these priorities, the Finnish government will promote alternative forms of transport to replace private cars, such as compatible door-to-door mobility services, smart and easy-to-use public transport, and the development and spread of new services, walking, cycling, ride sharing, and car sharing. The goal is a manifold increase in the resource and energy efficiency of the transport system, where user-oriented, interlinked mobility services – including public transport – provide the foundation for smooth travel chains.

What is more, the Finnish government will develop tax and other steering to support the termination of fossil fuel use in private cars by 2040, and promote the implementation of biofuels produced in a sustainable manner.

According to Sitra, the goal is to raise the share of electric, biogas, and other fossil-free private cars to 25 per cent of new private cars by 2020 and to 50 per cent by 2025. The methods of achieving this goal include subsidies directed at fossil-free private cars and the elimination of the tax on driving power, as well as stricter emissions progression in car and vehicle taxes. Increasing the emissions component of the excise duty on fuels will favour low-emission fuels, such as sustainably produced biofuels.

Besides, a circular economy will be accelerated by means of funding, export promotion, and co-operation between the private and public sectors. All projects that receive public funding, such as construction and infrastructure projects, will comply with circular economy principles.

Sitra stated that Finland will take full advantage of the opportunities offered by EU funding and the European Fund for Strategic Investments in its investment projects.

“In conjunction with implementing the roadmap, we will create risk financing, collateral financing, and crowdfunding, and investment subsidy arrangements that support a circular economy,” said the Sitra study.

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