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    Will Circularity and Digitalisation Buy us Time?

    According to experts partaking in the 'We Don't Have Time' summit, circular economies and digitalised tools are a vital part of the solution.

    Stockholm (NordSIP) – On September 23rd, the Stockholm-born We Don’t Have Time organisation held a new edition of its Summit, with Circularity and Digitalisation as its main themes. Present at the event were experts from all sectors, all of which pushed on the urgency of transitioning to a circular economy to reach the net zero by 2050 target.

    Contextualising circularity

    The current global economy is characterised by “linearity”, explains Marc de Wit, Director Strategic Alliances at non-profit Circle Economy as a “Take, Make, and Waste model”, whereby materials are extracted from nature, refined or produced, used, and then considered waste. This model has been of great use to humanity as it has bestowed us with wealth, convenience, and unprecedented living standards for many, de Wit goes on.

    However, this reiterative process has a huge impact on climate change, especially considering population growth and urbanisation. The world, however, cannot simply stop producing or emitting. So, what is the solution?

    Circular economy

    In a circular economy, products are manufactured in such a way that they are reusable. For example, electrical devices such as phones are made to be easily repaired. Thus, every time a phone breaks, there is no need to buy a new one – requiring new materials – as it can be fixed and used for longer.

    As de Wit puts it, the circular economy relies on a decrease in raw material needs, longer product lives and cleaner production processes, with a reduced reliance on fossil fuels.

    Lars Lindén, CEO of Swedish recycling company Ragn-Sells, refers to circularity as a “closed-material-loop”, whereby critical resources are kept in the production chain. Waste needs to stop being treated as valueless, rather a key source in recycling raw materials, he continues.

    Mats Pellbäck, Head of Sustainability at Swedish telecommunication giant Ericsson emphasises the importance of Information, Communication & Technology-related goods. 80% of the climate impact from phones comes from production, whilst the remaining 20% is split between chargers and other accessories. Prolonging the lives of these objects is therefore critical to solving the consumers’ climate equation.

    When companies adopt circular models, Pellbäck stresses, and as they take into account the product lifecycle, they are made to internalise the responsibility of their externalities. .

    Implementing a circular economic system could cut emission by 40% and leave us well below a 2 degree increase in temperature, according to de Wit, but both companies and countries will have to significantly alter their current path.

    The COVID19 pandemic has proven that quick changes are possible if necessary, de Wit argues, and if climate change is the biggest pressing issue that humanity has ever encountered, a drastic shift both production and consumption should be possible.

    Chilean Environmentalist and COP26 climate champion Gonzalo Muñoz, is cautiously optimistic, mentioning the flurry of net zero initiatives underway.

    Rachel Kyte, British academic and Dean of The Fletcher School at Tufts University,  speaks about the integration of carbon markets (CMs) in a circular economy.

    For Kyte, CMs will be integral to companies’ financing of their adaptation towards carbon neutrality Both investors and geopolitical forces are nudging companies towards CMs already, Kyte suggests.

    However, CMs could already be fraught with greenwashing, Kyte warns. New guidelines will soon ensure CMs’ integrity, she hopes. These guidelines aim to align companies and countries with the Paris agreement and the SDGs and lay the groundwork for regulated CM markets. Owen Gaffney,  Director of international media and strategy at the Stockholm Resilience Centre explains the role of the Exponential Roadmap Initiative of which he is the initiator.

    An accredited partner of the UNFCC Race to Net Zero, the initiative brings together leading companies to transform and innovate a to half worldwide GHG emissions by 2030.

    Digitalisation

    The event is centered around digitalised solutions. Ingmar Rentzhog, CEO of We Don’t Have Time, explains the functions of the organisation’s app, a digitalised stakeholder engagement, that connects users with large corporations, politicians and customers.

    In brief, users of the app can either send “climate-love” or “climate-warnings” through the interface meant to alert users of companies performing ‘good’ or ‘bad’ activities related to the environment.

    For example, earlier this year, the app was attributed with exposing Harvard University’s investments in oil. This led to an app user issuing a “climate-warning” to Harvard, who, later that year, responded on the app stating that Harvard will be installing new bio-fueled buses on campus and has since promised to divest from fossil fuels.

    Whether or not this promise will be held and if so, was made a result of the app, this example illustrates a new wave of stakeholder engagement that puts consumers in more direct contact with companies and other stakeholders

    Looming in the background of every shot was a countdown clock reading “8 years, 101 days, and 10 hours” counting down the minutes and seconds to 2030, like a climate dooms-clock. Whilst experts are throwing out numbers and solutions under the auspice of a showcase, one can’t help but feel that the organisers are working around an awkward duality of making a great event and urging for action now.

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