Estimated reading time 4 min

Crumbling world trade – or start of the new, circular era?

The World Circular Economy Forum offers a platform for developers of the new, more efficient economy.


Samuli Laita

Senior Lead, Communications and Public Affairs

Jukka Vahti

Project Director, Digital power and democracy



The world urgently needs systemic change and sustainable solutions to tackle the climate crisis. One key solution is the circular economy – decoupling resource use from economic growth, a way to end our era of overconsumption. 

Sitra’s podcast series on the future is trying to find answers to the urgent question on how to utilise and spread the best ideas and solutions that would bring us towards a brighter and sustainable future. In the episode WCEF2018 Special Edition the topic is about what´s trade got to do with tackling climate change and whether a crumbling world trade system is good or bad news for the climate. 

In this Special Edition we have a talk with Mr. Ernesto Hartikainen, Programme Manager of the World Circular Economy Forum 2018 from the Finnish future-oriented think tank Sitra and Ms. Malena Sell from the Finnish Ministry for Foreign Affairs, who works on trade and sustainability. 

There is a new need for global co-operation  

The very foundations of global co-operation and multilateralism are being questioned and even outright attacked, and at the same time we need global co-operation more than ever to fight climate change.  

In many countries the future of trade looks quite foggy. The backbone of our economy has remained unchanged for nearly a century and is now coming to the end. We have been using virgin resources to make products with short lifespans to sell to as many people as possible in the hope of maximising profits. We have been enhancing global trade to meet the needs of mass production as best as we could.

The universal perception of progress has been based on growing consumption, which demands the constantly increasing production of goods at progressively lower prices.

Now this equation is not working anymore. We must strive for prosperity in new ways. We are now building a circular economy – a new economic model in which consumption is based on using services – sharing, renting and recycling – instead of owning things.
 “We need to start thinking differently about our economy and how people live day to day,” says Ernesto Hartikainen. 

 What does this mean for international trade – should we, in regard to sustainability, actually aim for more or less trade? 

 “The trade is actually shifting – we are moving more towards trade in services rather than products,” says Malena Sell. Therefore, there is a growing need for a new kind of global co-operation: it is time to figure out how trade in the circular era looks like. 

Could a common road map to a circular economy help to design the future trade? 

Finland was the first country to create the national road map to a circular economy in 2016. Afterwards, many other countries have made their own maps. It is clear there will be more domestic circulation of materials and value but in addition to that, a lot of global circulation. 

“How we can make these circular road maps work together is through trade,” Malena Sell points out.  

 Is there a need for the global road map? And how the future of trade could look like – first glimpses will be seen at the World Circular Economy Forum 2018 in Yokohama. There more than 1,000 attendees are examining how businesses can seize new opportunities, gain a competitive advantage through circular economy solutions and how the circular economy contributes to achieving the UN Sustainable Development Goals and keeping global warming below 1.5 Celsius. 

Sitra’s future-oriented podcast, Hyvää huomista (Rise to shine), seeks answers to current issues, reflects on alternative solutions and explores ways to affect the world of tomorrow, today.

The podcast is hosted by Jukka Vahti, senior lead of Sitra’ s communications and public affairs. The previous episodes of the podcast are made in Finnish and can be found under the name Hyvää huomista –tulevaisuuspodcast both at Apple podcasts and at Spotify as well as on Sitra’ s website

Sitra’s activities are based on a vision in which Finland succeeds as a pioneer in sustainable well-being. All development efforts aim at enabling a good life within the earth’s carrying capacity.

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