The idea of a circular economy turns on the current linear model of resource extraction, usage and disposal on its head.
It aims to design out waste, eliminate toxic chemicals, and transform product design. This means going beyond simply increasing recycling and instead reducing the creation of waste in the first place, intentionally using the waste that remains as new economic inputs.
The rationale for this is economic as well environmental. Global demand for resources is rising, scarcity is increasing, wasteful resource use costs large amounts of money, and digitalisation is allowing for greater disruption of traditional business models.
A healthy natural world is a necessary precondition for healthy societies. Hunger cannot be kept at bay without fertile soil, long term economic planning is impossible in a world of persistent catastrophic storms. In many ways, the fundamental benefits of nature to our economies is not included in how markets and governments value economic decision-making.
Natural capital, a concept that underpins the Government’s 25 year plan for the environment, seeks to calculate the value of those bits of nature that are typically seen as being free. The idea is that putting a figure on the value of nature will lead to better decisions by government and in markets. Some reject this idea, questioning how a value can be put on the aesthetic beauty of a river or on the value of the global nitrogen cycle.
The environmental emergency is already causing a range of major problems around the world. Even if rapid action is taken, environmental destabilisation will increase, and societies must be ready for the resultant impacts. The Covid-19 pandemic has given an insight into events that can happen quickly, impacting all areas of society and overwhelming the ability to respond.
Adapting to the growing impacts of climate breakdown has been recognised as a priority by people across society in the UK for years. The government’s official advisors, the Committee on Climate Change, have previously concluded that the UK is not prepared for even a 2 degrees Celsius, let alone the higher global temperature rises that are likely to happen. Preparation is also needed to ensure the UK is resilient to the social, political and economic impacts of an environmentally destabilising world. There are potentially huge benefits of doing so; more resilient societies can be healthier and happier.