Stelpstra (NL/ECR), regional minister of the Province of Drenthe, answers
six questions on the New Circular Economy Action Plan (NCEAP), the EU's set of
proposals to decouple economic growth from resource use through the production and
consumption of durable, reusable and reparable products.
Following the publication of the NCEAP by the European Commission on 11
March 2020, Tjisse
Stelpstra is leading the contribution of the European Committee of the Regions
in an opinion to be adopted during the 12-14 October 2020 plenary session. The
circular economy is a key pillar
of the European Green Deal, the EU's growth strategy to reach
climate-neutrality by 2050.
Mr Stelpstra, you are the rapporteur of the European Committee of the Regions on the New Circular Economy Action Plan (NCEAP): can you tell us why this topic is important?
Circularity is not only the main way to save the planet's scarce resources, but also a key means to reduce CO2 emissions and decarbonise our economy. The circular economy is therefore crucial to the fight against global warming. Without a doubt, this is the reason why the circular economy is a major chapter in the European Green Deal presented by Frans Timmermans, the Executive Vice-President of the European Commission. In addition, the circular economy is inside every front door. Its importance lies in the fact that it tackles major problems – from resource use to waste and pollution, at both European and individual levels. Circularity is not just about the economy, industry and the need to produce responsibly. It is about the way we live and consume, from the clothes we buy, to how our houses are built, the amount of waste we produce and the quantity of water we use. These are everyday choices and we must shift our patterns so as to consume more consciously and more sustainably in order to evolve together towards a circular society. The New Circular Economy Action Plan is a key set of tools to help us in this vast and crucial endeavour.
The NCEAP was published by the European Commission at the beginning of the COVID-19 crisis. Do you think that the circular economy has a particular role to play in the new context of the health and economic crisis?
Absolutely! We have to put in a lot of effort to repair the economic and social impact of the COVID-19 lockdown. However, we must acknowledge that when we eradicate the COVID-19 pandemic, which I hope it will be very soon, the climate emergency will still be with us. The COVID-19 outbreak has shown our vulnerability and our enormous dependence on raw materials. We know that green markets bring huge economic opportunities and jobs. So let COVID-19 be a wake-up call. We really need to make this crisis an opportunity and press the green reset button to turn our society into a sustainable one.
What are your views on the NCEAP? Is it ambitious enough to ensure a swift transition to the circular economy?
The NCEAP proposed by the European Commission is ambitious, but could be more concrete in terms of actions and timeframes. On several key matters, we need more commitment and specific targets to drive change. For instance, on waste prevention and public procurement, we really have to make big steps forward. Setting realistic but challenging targets, if necessary with regional differentiation, will stimulate innovation technologies and their market uptake. That will bring real progress. In addition, the NCEAP could have integrated more fully the role of cities and regions into the transition towards a circular economy. I have heard several times that “regions are big enough to make the difference and small enough to make it happen." I think that is exactly the key point here.
From your experience, how can local and regional authorities (LRAs) better contribute and have a greater impact in transitioning to a circular economy?
Cities and regions have many opportunities to empower the shift to a circular economy, starting by implementing exemplary actions on public procurement. LRAs can set standards and drive the market towards more sustainable products and services. In addition, regional collaboration is essential to public-private partnerships, which we need to scale up the sustainable patterns of production and consumption that are fundamental to the circular economy. Waste management and processing is another area in which local and regional authorities can play a big role. They hold competencies and have great responsibilities in terms of regulation, in addition to knowledge and experience. The European Commission, together with the LRAs, should develop an innovative strategy focused on collecting and disassembling waste. Europe needs the knowledge and the experience that LRAs have accumulated on waste collection and treatment. Furthermore, regional knowledge and expertise is much needed in order to bring to the table comprehensive insights on material flows. Regarding this aspect, we are calling on the European Commission to share material flows publicly through a digital system at the European level. Another key area in which LRAs can greatly contribute in the transition towards a circular economy is water. Cities and regions are responsible for water quality. Water is our most important resource, but the biggest waste stream of households and industry as well. It contains many nutrients that can be recovered and water should be reused as much as possible.
Could you share with us a best practice from your region?
Perhaps one of the best examples is the Circular Friesland Association. This network brings together companies, governments, knowledge institutions and NGOs on a regional scale. They are determined to help Friesland become the most circular region in Europe by 2025 because they think it is necessary, but above all because they want it. Their motto is to think less but do more. The fields of activity vary from agriculture to mobility and from biomass to education. By sharing knowledge and inspiring and motivating each other, developments have the potential to accelerate. One of the driving forces behind the initiative is Ingrid Zeegers, who supports me as an expert in the opinion I am rapporteur of. She translates her global knowledge into bite-sized chunks for entrepreneurs and local initiatives. I see her enthusiasm in many others who are also contributing to making the switch to a circular economy. The entrepreneurs in the Northern Netherlands region who we spoke to while preparing the opinion also share their work passionately and are deeply committed to bringing circularity to a higher level. I believe that a circular society is a happy society.
A number of initiatives dedicated to the promotion of the circular economy already exist: the European Circular Economy Stakeholder Platform, Urban Agenda Partnerships, the Circular Cities and Regions Initiative, to name just a few. In your view, what actions should be undertaken at EU level to (better) support LRAs in transitioning to the circular economy?
Success starts with sharing good examples and inspiring each other. Networks are ideal for this. But the best support for the LRAs that Europe can give is to produce a strong and concrete Action Plan. Talk less, act more! Cities and regions are often the ones that bear the negative effects of products that we no longer use. Think of the pollution of water, air and soil. The producer does not have any responsibility in this regard. That really has to change and, with the support of all my colleagues at the European Committee of the Regions, we stand ready to make that change happen.
Tjisse Stelpstra's opinion aims to strengthen the local and regional pillar of the new Circular Economy Action plan to place cities and regions at its core. The opinion is to be adopted during the 12-14 October 2020 plenary session. Read our latest highlight here.
Annual waste generation from all economic activities in the EU amounts 2.5 billion tonnes (Eurostat). That is 5 tonnes per capita a year. Today, there is no comprehensive set of legal and policy requirements to ensure that all products placed on the EU market become increasingly sustainable and stand the test of circularity. That is the purpose of the European Commission's new Circular Economy Action Plan (CEAP) presented on 11 March 2020.
As a key pillar of the European Green Deal, a circular economy is crucial to achieve climate-neutrality by 2050. On 15 June 2020, the European Committee of the Regions launched the working group 'Green Deal Going Local'. Composed of 13 local and regional elected representatives, it aims at converting the Green Deal into concrete projects and direct funding for cities and regions to deliver the sustainable transition on the ground.