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Adopt circular solutions to reach global goals for nature

The circular economy provides a tangible tool to halt and reverse global biodiversity loss. Sitra’s circular economy experts organised a discussion on the theme at the UN Convention on Biological Diversity negotiations in Geneva.

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Emma Sairanen

Project coordinator, Global collaboration, Sustainability solutions, Sitra

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Human activity is driving biodiversity Biodiversity The diversity of wildlife that safeguards the preconditions for life on Earth. Open term page Biodiversity loss at unprecedented speed, creating a risk for human well-being and our economies. One million species are facing extinction, and none of the targets set for the last decade under the UN Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) have been fully met. Action is urgently needed.

In March 2022 in Geneva, countries began to negotiate new global targets for halting biodiversity loss by 2030. Vital for success is making sure that both direct and indirect drivers of biodiversity loss are tackled. A major indirect driver being our current linear economy, which follows the “take-make-waste” logic, producing waste and extracting finite natural resources beyond ecological limits.

According to the International Resource Panel, 90 per cent of land-use change related to biodiversity loss is caused by the way we extract and process materials, fuels and food. By tackling this root cause and providing more value from what we already have, the circular economy The circular economy An economic model which does not focus on producing more and more goods, but in which consumption is based on using services – sharing, renting and recycling – instead of owning. Materials are not destroyed in the end, but are used to make new products over and over again. Open term page The circular economy provides some of the most effective tools to halt biodiversity loss.

During the negotiations, The Finnish Innovation Fund Sitra, together with partners from the Finnish Ministry of the Environment, the Finnish Environmental Institute, the European Commission, the Mission of Ecuador, PBL Netherlands Environmental Assessment Institute and the Swiss fragrance and taste company Firmenich, held a discussion on how the circular economy could be used to strengthen new global targets for nature and used as a tool for implementation.

Circular actions in the European Union

The European Union is already taking lead. The EU Circular Economy Action Plan released in 2020 aims to reduce the footprint of production and consumption and double circular material use within the EU.

“The action plan is very much akin to changing the engines of an airplane during the flight so it won’t be easy, but together it can be done,” according to Pascal Delisle, Head of Section at the Delegation of the EU to the United Nations.

Within the action plan, production and consumption are considered together. Through new initiatives the European Commission aims to improve durability, reusability, upgradability and the recycled content of products while also empowering consumers to make better choices through reliable data.

Compared to the linkages between the circular economy and climate change mitigation, much less is known about the potential of circular solutions to tackle biodiversity loss. However, the circular economy community, including members of the European Circular Economy Platform, are rising to the challenge, exploring the linkages and suggesting actions to strengthen the circular economy as a tool for addressing biodiversity loss.

Ari-Pekka Auvinen, researcher at the Finnish Environmental Institute, presented results from a Finnish study exploring the potential of a circular economy to halt biodiversity loss and mitigate global heating. The study found that the best circular actions are ones that reduce the extraction of virgin raw materials and relieve land-use pressures. In particular, reuse on the consumer side and product lifetime extensions on the producer side are win-win solutions for biodiversity and climate change.

Tim Forslund, specialist at the Finnish Innovation Fund Sitra, presented a groundbreaking Sitra study, “Tackling root causes – Halting biodiversity loss through the circular economy”, quantifying this link on a global scale. According to the study, circular solutions in four key sectors can halt global biodiversity loss and help the world’s biodiversity recover to the same levels as in the year 2000 by 2035. The sectors are food and agriculture, construction, textiles and forests.

Focusing on food

Agriculture is a key driver of biodiversity loss. A recent remote sensing survey by the FAO (UN Food and Agriculture Organization) estimates that almost 90 per cent of global deforestation is caused by the expansion of agricultural lands. With big impacts come also large potential for solutions. According to Sitra’s study, circular actions in the food and agriculture sector could free up a land area as large as 1.5 times the size of Europe by 2050 for other uses, the most impactful solutions being alternative proteins and halving food waste.

“The plant-based revolution is driving big change in consumer choices,” said Oana Ocico, Vice President of Global Strategic Business Unit at Firmenich. By enabling consumers to make the right choices for them and the planet, Firmenich has estimated that their products could potentially save 285 billion litres of water and reduce emissions by 4.5 million tons of CO2 by 2030.

Change within the food sector requires action from both businesses and consumers. Transitioning to more plant-based diets can be supported through education and awareness raising, but also businesses have a role to play. “Unless you make the plant-based proteins taste nice the shift won’t happen,” said Ocico.

Besides dietary shifts, also changing the way food is produced – by incorporating more regenerative practices – is important. Regenerative agriculture includes practices like no-till methods, crop rotation and polyculture, biochar and organic principles which improve soil health, carbon sequestration, nutrient retention and diversity to build resilience.

Daniela García, Foreign Service Diplomat at the Mission of Ecuador to the WTO, shared an inspiring example of organic cacao cultivation in Ecuador. An association of Waorani Women from the Ecuadorian Amazon have tackled illegal poaching in their community by proving an alternative revenue stream: organic cacao cultivation. Applying circular economy principles both up and down stream in production, the community has been able to invest in education, fruit trees, healthcare and infrastructure.

The circular economy in the global biodiversity framework

Marcel Kok, Environment and Development Programme Leader and Senior Researcher at PBL Netherlands Environmental Assessment Agency, called for the need to tackle the indirect drivers of biodiversity loss, including overconsumption.

This should include current material efficiency thinking, but also a stronger emphasis on respecting planetary boundaries and achieving absolute decoupling of the economy from emissions and natural resource use. Marcel also highlighted that to strengthen the global goals for nature, halving the footprint of consumption through lifestyle and dietary changes and halving food waste is critical.

Oana Ocico also pointed out the need for a sense of urgency and a stimulus through consumer education and business incentives: “We want to see a level playing field for everyone. We cannot make change on our own.”

The negotiations on new global goals for halting biodiversity loss will continue in June in Nairobi and the new Global Biodiversity Framework will be finalised at the COP15 meeting later this year. Efforts to strengthen the framework will continue as well as efforts to harness the potential of the circular economy as a solution.

“The post-2020 Global Biodiversity Framework should ensure that countries take action to support the transition towards a nature-positive economy, sustainable consumption and the adoption of circular economy business models. These actions should aim to half the global ecological footprint on the environment, and here obviously the circular economy has a crucial role to play,” said Nina Mikander, Senior Specialist at the Finnish Ministry of the Environment.

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Project Director, Global collaboration, Sustainability solutions, Sitra

+358 (294) 618 287

Project coordinator, Global collaboration, Sustainability solutions, Sitra

+358 (294) 618 373

Specialist, Sustainability solutions for the economy, Sitra

+358 (294) 618 475

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