Building back better with synergistic climate change and circular economy interventions
Raimund Bleischwitz1, Fiona Charnley2, Paul Dewick3*, Yong Geng4, Sarah Strauss5 and Zhe Liu6
1 University College London, UK
2 The University of Exeter, UK
3 Keele Business School, Keele University and Manchester Institute of Innovation Research, The University of Manchester, UK;
4 School of International and Public Affairs, Shanghai Jiao Tong University, China
5 Worcester Polytechnic Institute, US
6 Institute for Population and Development Studies, School of Public Policy and Administration, Xi’an Jiaotong University, China
*Managing Guest Editor of the Special Issue
2020 saw unprecedented responses to the COVID-19 pandemic. The immediacy of the crisis, the severity of the consequences, and the non-uniform impacts captured the attention of governments, industry and society alike. Action was stimulated. A narrative of ‘building back better’ framed responses.
The notion of ‘building back better’ has brought into sharper focus the need to align interventions that aim to mitigate climate change and those that are designed to promote circularity. Climate change remains the greatest threat to humanity, though, to date, action has not gone far enough to reduce anthropogenic emissions of greenhouse gases. Shifting from linear to circular systems of consumption and production – dramatically reducing waste and resource use, regenerating natural environments – is rising up the political agenda, though progress is still in its relative infancy. Studies that explore explicitly the interconnectedness of climate change and the circular economy are relatively few and far between. The academic community has an important role to play in helping to design interventions that have a synergistic effect on climate change and circular economy (or, at best, a benign effect) and to avoid interventions that have an antagonistic effect. There has never been a more important time to consider explicitly how circular economy and climate change are related, and how we can design interventions to address both simultaneously.
The focus of this Virtual Special Issue (VSI) was an outcome of the discussion at the global open virtual forum on “An Equitable, Inclusive, and Environmentally Sound Circular Economy” in May 2020, sponsored by the Systems of Sustainable Consumption and Production Knowledge Action Network (SSCP-KAN) of Future Earth, The Greening of Industry Network, International Forum on Sustainable Value Chains, SCORAI, Worcester Polytechnic Institute, and the National Science Foundation. In this VSI of Resources, Conservation and Recycling we aim to address this knowledge gap by calling for original contributions from scholars working in interdisciplinary fields who are explicitly studying how circular economy and climate change are interconnected. We welcome conceptual papers; review articles that provide a meta-analysis of the literature on circular economy and climate change; case studies highlighting the conflict between circular economy and climate change strategies in specific contexts; and other contributions. We seek articles including, but not limited to, the following topic areas:
- Conceptual dissonance and empirical tensions – just as circular economy and sustainability have similarities and differences, a low carbon economy is not the same as a circular economy. What are the tensions and trade-offs associated with a transition to a more equitable, inclusive circular economy that pays close attention to strong sustainability and is uncompromising with respect to net reductions in greenhouse gas emissions?
- Tools and strategies – what can we learn from sector specific studies that integrate both indicators of circularity and carbon abatement at the product level (Niero and Kalbar, 2019)? How can tools and strategies be used to support decision making that promotes circularity and avoids conflict with climate change mitigation, especially in “hard to abate” sectors?
- Levels of analysis – how can we tackle (global) climate change with (local) circular economy strategies and vice versa? What can we learn from experiments at various levels to inform policy making? What foresight and planning tools can be used at the local level to achieve zero carbon through circular strategies? How can a circular economy be upscaled to address global governance issues (Geng et al ., 2019)?
- Regenerative eco-innovation – Regenerative eco-innovation opportunities may be more immediately obvious in agriculture and construction sectors, but how can we assess processes and outcomes on, for example, carbon sequestration and other key indicators; how can research address the contextual conditions that inhibit their adoption? Moreover, are there wider opportunities beyond these sectors where quintuple helix actors can come together to address both circular economy promotion and climate change mitigation (Durán-Romero et al ., 2020)?
- System level enablers – What are the system level enablers that support the transition towards a circular economy and how can they be used to also ensure that resulting solutions and interventions have a synergistic effect on climate change? What is the role and resulting impact of cross-cutting levers such design, business modelling, technology, policy, skills and capabilities on closing the gap between circularity and a zero carbon future?
- Transformations in consumption and production systems – The COVID19 crisis has spotlighted the industrial structural change processes that often follows economy-wide ‘jolts’. What are the techno-economic and socio-institutional leverage points to support low carbon and circular industries and accelerate the decline of high emitting industries and those that do not contribute to the circular economy (Markard and Rosenbloom, 2020)? What transition strategies exist for high impact sectors like cement and steel, and how can those be compared to strategies of substitution and reduction?
- Performance evaluation, metrics and evidence – It is critical to evaluate the overall performance of circular economy to mitigate climate change, and vice versa. Such studies can help further identify the key circular economy opportunities for mitigating climate change and improve the overall resource efficiency. In particular, since many countries have prepared their carbon peak targets, such studies may help decision makers prepare more feasible policies to achieve their national climate change targets. This is an invitation to multi-criteria assessments comprising macro-economic outcomes (Nechifor et al . 2020) and impacts on the environment as well as contributions to social goals, equity, diversity and inclusion etc.
A VSI is an online-only grouping of Special Issue articles traditionally assigned to a single Special Issue. Each article in a VSI is assigned a unique identifier and then published in a regular journal issue as soon as available. The unique identifier allows us to simultaneously add the article to a VSI on ScienceDirect which is gradually built up as individual articles are published online. Articles grouped together in a VSI retain their original citation details. A VSI speeds up the publication of individual articles as, unlike the publication process for conventional Special Issue articles, a VSI does not need to wait for the final article to be ready before publication.
A detailed submission guideline is available as “Guide for Authors” at: http://www.journals.elsevier.com/resources-conservation-and-recycling. All manuscripts and any supplementary material should be submitted through the online editorial system (https://www.editorialmanager.com/recycl ). The authors must select “SI: CE & CC” in the submission process.
Full paper submission deadline: September 30, 2021
Final decision notification deadline: January 14, 2022
Publication: As soon as accepted (VSI)
Durán-Romero, G., López, A.M., Beliaeva, T., Ferasso, M., Garonne, C., and Jones, P., 2020, Bridging the gap between circular economy and climate change mitigation policies through eco-innovations and Quintuple Helix Model, Technological Forecasting and Social Change, 160, https://doi.org/10.1016/j.techfore.2020.120246
Markard, J. and Rosenbloom, D., 2020, A tale of two crises: COVID-19 and climate, Sustainability: Science, Practice and Policy , 16:1, 53-60, https://doi.org/10.1080/15487733.2020.1765679
Nechifor, V. et al., 2020, Steel in a circular economy: Global implications of a green shift in China, World Development 127, https://doi.org/10.1016/j.worlddev.2019.104775
Niero, M. and Kalbar, P.P., 2018, Coupling material circularity indicators and life cycle based indicators: A proposal to advance the assessment of circular economy strategies at the product level, Resources, Conservation & Recycling , 140, 305-312, https://doi.org/10.1016/j.resconrec.2018.10.002
Geng, Y., Sarkis, J., and Bleischwitz, R., 2019, Globalize the circular economy, Nature 565: 153 – 155