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Cities embrace circular development at UNEA-4

The linear model of consumption needs to go. That might just be the key takeaway from UNEA-4, or the United Nations Environment Assembly, which was held in Nairobi 11-15 March. Throughout the event, policymakers, scientists and stakeholders made continuous reference to the “linear model” and why addressing it should be a top priority for communities worldwide if they are to build healthy environments and protect natural resources.

UNEA-4 is the most important decision-making event of UN Environment, so the focus on sustainable consumption and production reflects a key priority for nations. From waste concrete out of a freshly demolished building to the millions of tons of biomass discarded from inefficient food systems every year, the linear model dominates current urban production and consumption patterns, presenting a challenge for policymakers working towards a sustainable future.

Cities must lead on sustainable consumption and production

Home to infrastructure, businesses and over 50 percent of the global population, cities are responsible for 70 percent of greenhouse gas emissions and 75 percent of resource consumption worldwide. From impacting supply chains through sustainable procurement to integrating resource management within their municipalities, cities have a crucial role to play in driving the transition to sustainable production and consumption patterns.

Recognizing the critical role of local governments, UN-Habitat and UN Environment, together with ICLEI, UCLG and Cities Alliance, co-hosted the first Cities Summit alongside UNEA-4, focusing on multi-level and integrated systems for livable and sustainable cities. The Cities Summit focused on multi-level and integrated systems for livable and sustainable cities and provided a forum for high-level dialogue between mayors, ministers, private sector leaders and civil society representatives on circularity, good governance, integration, technology, financial readiness and engagement of communities.

During the closing plenary of the Assembly, Marcin Krupa, Mayor of Katowice, Poland delivered a statement sharing key outcomes from the Cities Summit in which he reminded nations that “70 percent of infrastructure that we will see in 2050 is yet to be built”, highlighting the opportunity to act now to in order to meet the resource needs of future cities sustainably.

Yunus Arikan, Head of Global Policy and Advocacy at ICLEI, delivered a statement on behalf of local authorities reassuring nations that “local and regional governments and their networks are eager to offer their expertise and collaboration to UN Environment and UNEA delegations in order to connect sustainable, integrated, urban and territorial development into the environment agenda.”

Implementing circularity by design

According to the latest report by the International Resource Panel, about 50 percent of total greenhouse gas emissions and 90 percent of biodiversity loss and water stress are caused by resource extraction and processing. While strategies that focus on recycling and end-of-life solutions are important, a lifecycle approach that focuses on the design phase is also critical.

At the Global Major Groups and Stakeholders Forum, ICLEI called for lifecycle approaches to be used by local governments to inform both investments and policies. One methodology local governments can use for this in their public procurement practices is lifecycle costing - the assessment of all costs associated with the life-cycle of a product or infrastructure, be they costs that actors of the supply chain bear or costs that are externalised.

ICLEI has compiled a best practice report and Case Study Collection for municipalities to learn more about how circular principles can be embedded in public procurement, including local sourcing, low embodied energy and water and cradle-to-cradle management of resources.

Circular development will be key in African cities

African cities will experience an eightfold increase of resource consumption by 2050. Their ability to deliver public services is heavily dependent on local circular transitions. To discuss the implications of circular development for cities in sub-Saharan Africa, ICLEI brought together cities, civil society organizations including the South African Waste Pickers Association and other global players during a side-event at the Green Tent.

The session discussed the importance of integrating informal waste pickers into circular strategies. For Simon Mbata from the South African Waste Pickers Association, waste pickers’ expertise in materials is a valuable tool to rethink the design of products and build circular transitions that benefit all. In the organic waste loop, community composting was identified as a relevant scale to ensuring efficient governance and social benefits.

Panelists called for consumers and producers to stop relying on materials that can’t be reused or recovered at the end of their lifespan. Dar Es Salaam is developing community composting to support urban agriculture, protect local forests and prevent pollution from organic waste. The session focused on the role of waste pickers and how their expertise to be tapped to design products differently, ensuring proper recyclability.

Read more about ICLEI’s full engagement at UNEA-4.

Read more on ICLEI’s Circular Development Activities.

Read the full Ministerial Declaration of the 2019 United Nations Environment Assembly.

Read the Global Taskforce of Local and Regional Governments coverage of the First Cities Summit at UNEA.

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