Toespraak staatssecretaris Van Veldhoven bijeenkomst EU-lidstaten op Finse ambassade

Toespraak van staatssecretaris Van Veldhoven op 2 september 2019 bij een bijeenkomst van de EU-lidstaten op de Finse ambassade in Den Haag waar ze een lezing houdt over de circulaire economie.

De tekst is alleen in het Engels beschikbaar.

Thank you for the invitation! It’s great to see you all, here and in Helsinki! 1,500 kilometres apart, and yet in the same room!

An interesting setting with a relevant theme: the circular economy.

By holding this meeting at the beginning of the EU Presidency, Finland is giving a clear signal: putting the circular economy squarely on the agenda of its EU Presidency.

That’s inspiring and encouraging. We need the involvement of the EU to take the circular economy to the next level. A lot is happening now: the number of circular initiatives is growing, there are pilots, programmes and start-ups. Now it’s time to let the circular economy spread its wings at all international levels.

The timing of this meeting is perfect. Especially in light of next month’s Council Conclusions on the future of the circular economy and a second action plan to be presented by the new Commission. Member states are debating and deciding on the direction of the new Commission’s circular economy priorities.

Let’s use this meeting to explore that direction in a bit more detail.

I’m sure we’re all personally committed to this issue. What is my personal motivation to bring CE to a higher level?  

No doubt my background played a role. I grew up in a small village in the Betuwe region of the Netherlands, on the banks of the River
Waal, surrounded by farmland. We ate vegetables we’d grown ourselves and the leftovers went to the chickens. So for me the circular economy was quite simple: don’t waste anything! [So, being here and talking to you, it’s all the fault of my parents!]

There is something we all have to deal with: over the next 35 years, the world’s population will grow by a third. By 2050 there’ll be 10 billion of us.
All these people will need a proper home, food, clothes, perhaps a car and a smartphone. Like every other generation before them, they’ll hope to live healthy, safe and prosperous lives.

We’re going to need an unimaginable amount of resources! Could there be any more urgent reason to develop a circular economy, and stop wasting valuable resources?

Knowing this, it’s great to see that international awareness of CE is growing. We are making progress. The EU has become one of the global frontrunners, and there is growing activity in many EU member states:

  • Look at the way France has incorporated eco-design into its laws.
  • Or Slovenia’s ambition to achieve circular procurement at all levels of government.
  • Denmark is a frontrunner in industrial symbiosis.
  • Other countries are taking action against plastic: like France, the UK, Italy, Finland, Denmark, Sweden and Spain.

I see two reasons for this growing awareness:

1. Until now, climate talks and actions have focused on sustainable energy and energy savings. That makes sense – sustainable energy is a very direct way of reducing greenhouse gas emissions. But there’s one aspect that we tend to overlook. That’s smarter and more efficient use of raw materials.

A growing body of research confirms that a smarter use of raw materials can substantially reduce industrial carbon emissions. Up to 60 per cent by 2050, in fact, as your Council determined in an expert report! And we desperately need scarce raw materials like cobalt, gallium and platinum for our energy transition.

The second reason is more pragmatic: new economic opportunities!

Smarter use of resources is not only good for the planet, it also makes sense from a business perspective. Not just by making our current systems more efficient, but especially by creating more value from waste.

More and more companies, big and small, understand that they need to change. Not only to remain competitive in a world where resource security is under pressure, but also to reap the benefits of the global transition to a more circular economy.

There will be sectors that benefit from the transition, and others that will suffer. We’ll have to find a way to deal with that. Jobs will change too, most likely for the better. And the transition will cost money; who will pay what?

Overall, however, both the environment and the economy will benefit. The prognosis for the EU is positive:

  • potential economic benefit of 1.8 trillion euros by 2030;
  • over one million new jobs across the EU by 2030.

The question is now: how do we get there?

It starts with ambition. The Netherlands is working to achieve a fully circular economy by 2050. By 2030 we want to have halved our use of primary raw materials. Long-term clarity helps businesses take investment decisions and helps regional governments develop their policies.

How do we manage this process? Crucially, we don’t talk about businesses. We talk and work with them to overcome legal and financial barriers.

We’ve drawn up action plans, together with representatives of our leading economic sectors – such as plastics, construction and manufacturing.

  • We’re going to expand our producer responsibility strategy, extending manufacturers’ responsibility for waste, as well as facilitating innovation.
  • We’re developing new design standards, based on the principle of reuse.
  • And we’re stimulating the market, for instance, through green public procurement across central government. Government is a big party on the market, and accounts directly for 15 to 20 per cent of our GDP.

For example: all our military uniforms will be re-used. And I mean all – not just those of officers! In the past, discarded uniforms were incinerated. Now, there’s a new business model, with the government as a launching customer.

Why am I telling you this?

Politics can and must make a difference by creating the best conditions for the circular economy to develop. Take the Dutch Plastics Pact.

I’d only just announced my intention to draw up a Plastics Pact when the first businesses got in touch. They felt the urgency and were listening to consumer demand. But there was a great need for direction and for a shared agenda. I’m proud of the ambitious agreements we’ve made with some 75 big companies.

  • By 2025 all their single-use plastic products and packaging will be 100 per cent recyclable.
  • They will use 20 per cent less plastic.
  • And: by 2025, at least 35 per cent of their products will be made from recycled plastics.

This will be no easy task. The chemical industry needs to develop plastics that are easy to recycle and chemical recycling methods.

But the Pact is creating the critical mass and momentum required to change the plastics market. It would be great to build up that momentum on a European scale! Together with my French colleague we are working on a European plastics pact.

Very soon, Secretary of State Poirson and I will send a letter to your ministers with more details and dates. The plan is to host a preparatory conference in Paris in late November to involve as many member states and companies as possible, and a summit in The Hague in February where our pact will be signed.

Together, we can give a clear and loud signal to the market, to companies and to consumers that plastics need a different approach. These commitments in the plastics sector could serve as a model for the garment industry: it would be great to reach agreement on a transition from fast fashion to a sustainable garment industry. Not easy but do-able if we work together.

And that’s the way to stimulate a circular economy! Governments and companies in all member states have a part to play. We need to shift up a gear. I hope and expect the new Commission will play a major part.

Especially by creating optimum conditions for growing the new economy. For me the main issues are:

  • Introducing new standards and quality norms for products. These can give an enormous boost to the market. For example, the eco-design directive could be expanded to include circular and safe design and could be made to apply to many more product groups.
  • Expanding producer responsibility so that they design their products with a view to repair, refurbishment and remanufacturing.
  • Expanding recycling capacity. Various member states are now making long-term investment decisions on waste incineration, while we should be working on recycling instead.
  • Green public procurement. Government has a massive influence on the market. Public procurement accounts for around 15 per cent of the European Union’s GDP. This is an area where we all can learn from experience. In particular on how to reflect carbon emissions from products and processes in pricing. I’m sure we can learn from pilots with shadow pricing. It’s a good intermediate step.

I’m curious to hear your reactions and questions!

To conclude.

The circular economy is starting to spread its wings. It’s going from start-up to scale-up.

The EU can create optimum conditions for this. The first steps have been taken; it’s time for CE 2.0: let’s work on that!

Thank you.