Can Globalization Fit into the Circular Economy Model?


The french journal « L’Opinion » wrote an article about this subject with Gwenola Chambon. At this time, July 2023, Infravision Think Tank was not yet publicly announced, but already in the process, and that piece fits perfectly with the subjects what we aim to tacle.

The original article (in french) can be found there. Here is a translation in english :

Ahead of the Economic Meetings in Aix-en-Provence, Gwenola Chambon, co-founder and CEO of Vauban Infrastructure Partners, and Patrice Geoffron, member of the Cercle des économistes, analyze the development of circularity in the global economy.

Published on July 4, 2023, at 11:00 AM

Gwenola Chambon – Patrice Geoffron

Gwenola Chambon: « More than 90% of materials are wasted, lost, or simply unavailable for reuse. »

In 2023, according to the Circularity Gap Report, only 7.2% of materials in our economies are recycled after use. This means over 90% of materials are wasted, lost, or unavailable for reuse, following a linear economic model based on « extract, produce, consume, dispose, » leading to planned obsolescence.

As the extraction and use of materials represent nearly 70% of global greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, this economic model will not meet climate, ecological, and energy challenges. It is urgent for the global economy, especially the infrastructure sector, responsible for 79% of GHG emissions, to integrate more circularity in all logistics chains of design, production, and consumption behaviors. Implementing circular economy strategies tailored to each country could reduce emissions by nearly 40% and set the world on a sustainable decarbonization path.

The momentum is driven by political will and ecological awareness, but the rise of the circular economy remains relative, requiring a systemic, pragmatic, and collaborative approach within a globalized economy.

Systemic Approach

The circular economy is a new paradigm involving the circulation, reuse, and traceability of materials between different production chains, optimized material consumption, and new, more sustainable uses. Solutions already exist with concrete applications to extend infrastructure life and reduce environmental impact: using recycled asphalt for road construction, new designs in the building sector, carbon capture and reuse, etc.

Pragmatic Approach

The approach must also be pragmatic in a globalized world. While the circular economy promotes short circuits and the relocation of supply chains, de-globalization is neither a credible scenario nor a desirable prospect for competitive resource access. The circular model must find its « right place » in a global economy based on the theory of comparative advantage, creating synergies, such as recycling and waste recovery, and implementing common regulations.

Collaborative Approach

Finally, a collaborative approach encouraging the exchange of best practices internationally will help evolve towards « circular infrastructures » and interconnected models. This involves creating sustainable, resource-efficient economic models, requiring the transfer of the most innovative circular technologies.

A « just » and effective circular transition requires the mobilization of all stakeholders, supported by an ecosystem of committed investors to finance a sustainable future and bridge the current « circular investment gap. » The challenge is immense and urgent.

Patrice Geoffron: « OECD companies have a specific responsibility to accelerate circularity. »

Since 1980, the volume of global trade has multiplied by over 7, twice the rate of GDP growth, structuring the global economy. Despite the impacts of COVID and the Ukraine crisis pushing for more « resilient » value chains, the global economy will not suddenly reorganize around local circuits.

The environmental transition will also involve international trade of « critical » materials. For example, an electric car requires six times more minerals than a thermal car; a new wind farm needs nine times more than a gas plant. This will particularly affect Europe, which cannot extract all the necessary minerals for its Green Deal.

Reducing extraction

It is essential for globalization to adopt a circular economy logic, as the transition will be resource-intensive. Currently, the global economy is only 7.2% circular, relying more on virgin materials, whereas needs could be met with 30% less raw materials.

Reducing extraction at the source (through eco-design) is crucial, as well as extending the lifespan of equipment (in a logic of sobriety), reducing volumes and their transport. Recycling is virtuous, saving materials and reducing energy and carbon footprint compared to « new » (over 75% reduction for steel and aluminum), but not a panacea, as most materials degrade over cycles. Moreover, the complexity of technical objects (like smartphones) complicates material recovery.

Circularity is far from being established in globalization, unsurprising given our model heavily relies on carbon combustion, a process far from circular. OECD companies have a specific responsibility to accelerate circularity, spreading regulatory requirements along their value chains. French companies have specific opportunities in this field, given their expertise in waste management, construction, and infrastructure management.

More press releases :

A Think Tank to Revolutionize Infrastructure – La Tribune

Can Globalization Fit into the Circular Economy Model?

Vauban IP launches infra-focused think tank

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