Speech Stientje van Veldhoven, Minister for the environment, at the side session on metrics and data, WCEF, 4 June 2019
“It would be fantastic if we could agree an international approach for monitoring the circular economy. Not just to measure the progress. But also to be able to steer that progress – and learn from each other! We don’t just need a thermometer, we also need a thermostat.”
Ladies and gentlemen,
Thank you for inviting me to be here today. The mere fact that we’re talking about measuring and monitoring the circular economy in this international setting is very encouraging.
It shows we’re serious in our efforts to create a circular economy.
We all know how important that is.
• It’s about future generations
• It gives us new economic opportunities
• and a smarter use of natural resources makes a real contribution to our climate goals.
A lot’s happening in many different places at once.
• Auping mattresses – 100% circular.
• Jean Bouteille – a French company that’s devised a system of returnable bottles for the purchase of commodities like detergent, fruit juice, cooking oil and wine.
We’re now at a stage where we want to scale up and speed up.
In doing so, it’s essential to properly measure the progress of the circular economy. I want to make sure that we don’t just monitor progress, but also steer it.
How far have we got in the Netherlands?
The Netherlands is in the process of transitioning to a zero waste economy, and greater re-use of scarce natural resources. Step by step we’re working to make the economy fully circular by 2050.
Our five main economic sectors – plastics, construction, the manufacturing industry, consumer goods and biomass & food – have drawn up Transition Agendas of their own. These agendas signal a move from planning to doing. They’re full of action points.
• New techniques to completely recycle carpets: amounting to 4.5 billion square metres worldwide!
• We can now make new concrete from old concrete!
A lot is being done. Vast numbers of initiatives are underway. The figures speak for themselves:
• 85,000 activities
• half a million jobs
• 1,500 totally innovative ideas.
Behind these anonymous figures are appealing stories. Created by people who looked at their surroundings with fresh eyes. And who thought: there are better, smarter ways of doing this, with less waste.
Like the people who sought to create sustainable asphalt without fossil by-products. The first cycle path made with this material has now been laid.
Or the person who saw the vast quantities of plant residues as a potential resource. So she set to work at home. And it turned out there were applications for her product in interior construction! A big furniture manufacturer is now interested in it.
It’s that drive and resourcefulness that I find so inspiring.
What we need to do now is to introduce more structure and focus to all these unrelated initiatives.
At the moment there are a lot of cogs in motion. What we want is for all those cogs to interlock so that the whole process starts moving faster and the circular engine can be well and truly fired up.
That’s why earlier this year we drew up a new national implementation programme together with all the relevant parties from government, business and science.
It brings together many different initiatives.
In addition, we’re putting emphasis on monitoring and measuring. We’re now building on things like the European Monitoring Framework and the Sustainable Development Goals to develop a new system.
We don’t just want to measure quantity. We also want to know whether we’re nearing our goals. Whether our actions are having the desired effect. What we should do differently.
The idea is to generate recommendations for policymakers and knowledge workers, business people and investors. The first results are expected at the end of this year.
Armed with these results, I can then go and speak to administrators twice a year to discuss progress.
It’s a very positive sign that various other countries are busy developing monitoring instruments of this kind! Italy, Belgium, Germany, France, Switzerland and the EU itself.
It’s my ambition to work together internationally to this end. It would be fantastic if we could agree an international approach. Not just to measure the progress of the circular economy. But also to be able to steer that progress – and learn from each other!
We don’t just need a thermometer, we also need a thermostat.
The Framework that the EU presented in early 2018 is certainly a step in the right direction. It provides insight into how much material is being used, how much is being recycled, how many patents there are and how many jobs have been created.
But if we want to scale up and speed up, we need to go a step further. I believe that a good circular economy monitoring system should provide an understanding of:
• The impact of the circular economy on carbon emissions, soil, water and air.
• Quality standards for products and materials. Consumers must have guarantees about product safety. Producers want guarantees about supply.
• Employment: What kind of jobs are we talking about? For whom? What does this require in terms of education?
Measuring is a great tool if you want to know where you are. But to get to where you want to be, you need more control. How can governments make use of taxation? Regulation? Education?
I’ve asked for a monitoring system of this kind to be set up in the Netherlands. And a lot of hard work is currently being done to achieve that.
Internationally, I will also use my role within the Platform for Accelerating the Circular Economy (PACE) to get qualitative monitoring off the ground.
The great thing about PACE is that it brings together governments and major corporations. I regard that as crucial: public-private leadership and partnership is necessary to achieve an economy with a smarter and more efficient use of raw materials.
And in the end, that’s what it’s all about.