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UNECE presents circular solutions for the future world of sustainable industries at World Circular Economy Forum 2024

UNECE presents circular solutions for the future world of sustainable industries at World Circular Economy Forum 2024

UNECE at the World Circular Economy Forum 2024

In today’s world of resource scarcity and the triple planetary crises of climate change, nature loss and pollution, many efforts are focused on developing new technologies, tools, products, and services that foster circular and sustainable consumption and production patterns across the textile, agriculture, electronics, and energy sectors. Public policies incentivize circular practices and sustainable use of natural resources. However, current efforts do not yet yield the results necessary to respond to the urgency and complexity of the current issues we face on a global scale. 

Citizens need to increase their efforts to think of new ways of creating value. This includes facilitating experimentation, learning and innovative thinking on what types of processes and business models can help scale up current initiatives. In response to its member States’ decisions, UNECE has made circular economy a cross-cutting priority and is now developing different initiatives to support the uptake of best practices and facilitate the sharing of knowledge across different areas.  

At the recent World Circular Economy Forum 2024 (WCEF 2024), UNECE showcased several of its key tools that support the circular economy across four thematic, but interrelated areas: business model innovation and the platform economy, traceability in global value chains with a starting point in the textile industry, circular food systems, and Circular STEP, a UNECE platform for policy dialogue on circular economy. 

Business model innovation: the platform economy  

One business model that could accelerate the circular economy transition is the platform economy. Modern platforms like Amazon, Uber, Airbnb have disrupted industries and achieved global scale. However, many of these still spur the linear economy, missing out on the potential of platforms in creating circular marketplaces. If developed with circular ambitions in mind, platforms could enhance circular practices and lower transaction costs, including the triangulation of supply and demand, and traceability and transparency of supply chains.  

To discuss industry examples and policy implications of platforms for the circular economy, the UN-ECE Transformative Innovation Network (ETIN) co-organized a panel session at the WCEF on the topic of Platform-driven transition: scaling circular solutions. The session revealed that the circular transition is not only dependent on technological advancements and tools, but that it needs to also consider the potential and need for market creation and human behaviour. Markets will play a critical role in circularity as they help coordinate a variety of activities, such as matching supply and demand and creating synergies and spillovers between sectors - platforms are particularly suitable to facilitate such coordination.   

Traceability in global value chains. Starting point: Textile  

Another circular priority sector is the garment and footwear sector, being one of the highest climate impact sectors at global level and accounting for 4% of global greenhouse gas emissions. Enhancing circularity in the textile industry means overcoming challenges in production like eco-design and waste management legal frameworks.  

At WCEF 2024 UNECE-UNECLAC shared recommendations from their study on second-hand clothing trade flows from global, European and Chilean perspectives.  UNECE also presented its latest tool-  the Product Circularity Data Standard - an extension of its existing traceability and transparency standard for textile and leather, providing business requirement specifications (BRS) supporting the standardized data exchange for circular business models. 

Moreover, since 2019 the joint UNECE-International Trade Centre’s project supported by the European Commission, has increasingly drawn attention to the enabling role of traceability and transparency to improve value chains sustainability and circularity. This has demonstrated encouraging results regarding the potential of advanced technologies, like blockchain, to achieve traceability and tools available to support companies to share product information on sustainability criteria in a standardized format and formulate claims. 100 companies and stakeholders from the sector have joined UNECE's Sustainability Pledge call to action and blockchain pilots, including the Reda Group, Inditex, SÖKTAŞ Textile, etc.    

Circular food systems 

WCEF 2024 had a special focus on circularity in agri-food and biobased materials. Currently, a third of all food produced is lost or wasted - around 13% between harvest and retail, and another 19% at household, food service, and retail levels, according to estimates by FAO and UNEP. When food goes to waste it means that the resources used to produce that food are wasted, highlighting the urgency to increase resource efficiency and circularity in agri-food value chains.  

UNECE and the World Resources Institute (WRI) organized an accelerator session on Circular Food Systems: Enabling Policies and Successful Business Cases in the Agri-Food Sectorto spotlight actions in Rwanda and Serbia to increase circularity in agri-food sectors and highlighted the role of policies and successful business models in promoting circularity.  

Food waste is not just a problem in developed countries. In developing countries, 40%of losses occur at post-harvest and processing levels (WFP). This challenge is particularly noticeable in fresh fruit and vegetable value chains. To address this, UNECE's Working Party on Agricultural Quality Standards developed a Code of Good Practice for reducing food loss and ensuring optimum handling of fresh fruit and vegetables along the value chain, providing practical guidelines for minimizing food loss and waste at production, trader, transporter and retail levels.  

Circular STEP: UNECE platform for policy dialogue on circular economy  

To encourage the emergence of circular solutions, it is important to create avenues for sharing experiences and lessons learned, and to empower actors by facilitating cooperation. This is where another UNECE’s Circular Economy Stakeholder Engagement Platform (Circular STEP) comes in. Established in 2022, Circular STEP facilitates peer learning and knowledge sharing among public and private sectors, organizations, and academia in the UNECE region.  

At WCEF 2024, UNECE and the Mission of the Republic of Serbia to the European Union organized a session on the power of partnerships: Stakeholder Engagement Platform Circular STEP to showcase the important role of stakeholder platforms in accelerating circularity. Speakers shared experiences on the usefulness of platforms for advancing circularity, including examples from the regional EU Circular Economy Stakeholder Platform, African Circular Economy Alliance (ACEA), Global Alliance for Circular Economy (GACERE), Platform for Accelerating Circular Economy (PACE), as well as national platforms in Belgium and Serbia.  

Circular STEP representatives shared experiences on circularity enabling policies  and discussed digital solutions for circular transition. There was a strong recognition of the need to continue to promote and expand these platforms to ensure that more stakeholders can access the essential knowledge and tools, making the circular transition a widespread reality.  

UNECE will continue showcasing its practical circular solutions at its Regional Conference on the Circular Economy Transition, which will take place in Geneva, Switzerland, on 26 June 2024.