The global circular economy: ‘our aim is transformation’


Since 2016, the Directorate-General for the Environment has carried out a series of Circular Economy Missions: high-level political and business meetings in third countries to communicate and promote sustainable and resource-efficient policies. In this interview, Director-General Daniel Calleja Crespo tells Environment for Europeans magazine how the missions are supporting the global transition to a circular economy and helping European businesses to find new markets.

‘We are building bridges – between European institutions, NGOs and companies, and stakeholders in third countries who are interested in the opportunities that the transition to the circular economy brings,’ says Daniel Calleja Crespo, Director-General of DG Environment.

If the EU and third countries can work together on these questions, and truly assume their global responsibility, then together we can lead the efforts towards more sustainable development for the planet as a whole.

Daniel Calleja Crespo, Director-General of DG Environment

Since 2016, DG Environment has carried out six Circular Economy Missions: to Chile, Peru, China, South Africa, Colombia, Japan, Indonesia and India. The missions are aimed at increasing international cooperation in environmental policy, better understanding of the environmental challenges facing third countries, and promoting green solutions through business partnerships.

‘At the same time, we are also intensifying our regulatory dialogue with the authorities of these countries,’ says Calleja.

In particular, the missions focus on topics related to eco-innovation, chemicals and plastic, waste, water management, marine pollution and urban environmental best practices. Calleja says: ‘Global environmental challenges represent a transformational agenda for the whole of society. We can boost international cooperation, for example, by promoting policies directed at fostering the circular economy, green public procurement and innovative, sustainable and inclusive growth. Achieving a circular economy means changing global mindsets.’

A global transition

In September 2018, the fifth Circular Economy Mission took place in India. The EU and India are already working together on tackling climate change, water management, improving air quality, renewable energies and green urban mobility. 

Calleja explains: ‘This was a great opportunity to deepen and expand our cooperation. We already share many ideas. For example, this year, both the EU and India have taken strong action on single-use plastics. I am also excited about developing the circular economy internationally because it is, quite simply, our shared future.’ 

A recent report from the Ellen MacArthur Foundation shows that a circular economy path in India would bring annual benefits in excess of EUR 500 billion by 2050, compared with the current ‘business-as-usual’ path. ‘That is a benefit equivalent to 30 % of India’s current GDP,’ says Calleja.

‘Issues like these offer a wide area for further bilateral discussions, not least because they have a great potential for innovative business solutions. For instance, the use of state-of-the-art technologies can help to reduce environmental impacts,’ he adds.

Also in October this year, a combined Circular Economy Mission to Japan and Indonesia promoted policies on sustainability and resource-efficiency in these countries, opening up markets for EU green companies and entrepreneurs.

Growing green business

The missions include matchmaking events between European and local entrepreneurs in the third countries. ‘This approach is supporting innovation and sustainable and inclusive growth in both regions,’ says Calleja. ‘It means helping EU companies, and in particular small and medium-sized enterprises, to operate internationally by developing green business opportunities.’

The sectors referred to include agro-business, renewable energy, chemicals, mobility, cleantech, construction, healthcare, sewage treatment, textiles and apparel, water, waste (plastics, construction, electric waste, solid and domestic waste), and waste-to-energy. In addition, companies offering engineering, urban planning, consultancy and financial services are also taking part in the missions. ‘We mean to grow green business cooperation,’ Calleja continues.

Lasting prosperity

But the missions are about much more than doing business abroad, according to the Director-General. ‘The business opportunities are enormous, but we shouldn't lose sight of the bigger picture. This isn't just about business. We all know about the population expansion that lies ahead. We have all seen the forecasts about growing urbanisation and energy demand,’ he says.

‘With the right policy mix, we can turn these challenges into opportunities, with benefits for all. For example, the circular economy is a blueprint for long-term sustainability. It lays the foundations for lasting economic prosperity, for companies and countries alike,’ he reiterates.

Calleja also highlights that in recent years the Paris Climate Agreement has been ratified, and the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, with its 17 Sustainable Development Goals, has set out a clear roadmap towards eradicating poverty and achieving greater well-being for all, while living in a resource-constrained world.

‘To achieve these collective goals, we need coalitions between states, civil society and the private sector. We need the participation of businesses, researchers, innovators, investors and all stakeholders,” he insists.

‘If the EU and third countries can work together on these questions, and truly assume their global responsibility, then together we can lead the efforts towards more sustainable development for the planet as a whole.’

Find out more

Learn more about Circular Economy Missions here.

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Resource efficiency
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