French parliamentarians launch ‘circular economy club’

(Photo: iStockPhoto)

More and more French lawmakers are signing up to a parliamentary 'circular economy club' but the role of the cross-party initiative is causing considerable debate. reports.

On 20 August this year, humanity’s use of renewable natural resources had “overshot” the amount the planet could produce in one year, environmental NGOs warned.

A month and a half later, François Michel Lambert, the president of the French Institute for a Circular Economy (IEC) and member of the Green Party is launching, together with his colleague Chantal Jouanno from the centre-right Union of Democrats and Independents, “the club of parliamentarians for a circular economy” in an attempt to help the group's ideas gain strength in parliament.

The circular economy is already an important issue for the French Socialist Party (PS), largely thanks to the former presidential candidate Ségolène Royal.

The value of the new club is no doubt to gather together parliamentarians of different political colours with often very diverging, and even conflicting, approaches to environmental issues.

Last year, another environmental initiative backed by green politicians Daniel Cohn-Bendit and Pascal Durand, the 'Forum of Ecologistes', saw the light of day. This time, the first signatories were PS senators Laurence Rossignol and Gérard Miquel, PS parliamentarians Christophe Bouillon, Dominique Potier and Jean-Jacques Cottel, and green senator Jean-Vincent Placé.

Luc Bennahmias from the centre-right 'Modem' party is the only MEP to have joined but the club intends to recruit others.

No legislative framework

The circular economy was discussed at the no less than five roundtables during the French environment conference at the end of September.

But parliamentarians knocked back the idea of a new law in the area, which the IEC had been pushing for. Environment Minister Philippe Martin envisaged only a possible “conference on implementation”.

Another sticking point for the greener end of the movement and the French government is the meaning each side gives to the term “circular economy”.

For Prime Minister Jean Marc Ayrault it means “establishing a new economic model that minimises waste and reuses it more”, a minimalist definition that focuses solely on waste.

The cradle-to-cradle concept that inspired the circular economy movement has a wider meaning, spanning from product manufacturing to urban planning and social organisation.

IEC President François Michel Lambert said: “This economic model offers new opportunities for growth and creation of jobs that will not be relocated outside of France.

"The topic is highly strategic. In the framework of its roadmap on an efficient use of resources, the European Commission has already included the circular economy development in its priority areas of work."

Europe's strategy for the year 2020 tags recycling as a priority. The new economic development model could help save billions of euros, according to a study by the McKinsey and Company consultancy for the Ellen MacArthur Foundation.

Between a think tank and a lobby group

The IEC, an association as defined by France's 1901 law, is only a few months old and its legal status falls somewhere between a think tank and a lobby group.

“Our goal is to make regulation progress both on the national and the European level. Our members have potentially divergent interests but we will set up a charter to indicate the limits of the influence of each one of them”, the IEC says.

The association was created with the financial help of its founding members, such as the gas distribution company GrDF, which is interested in industrial-scale anaerobic digestion, Paprec, a paper recycling company, French postal service 'La Poste', the cement workers’ trade union and environmental foundation Veolia.

The issue is also gaining popularity in China where growing consumption and resource use is having a drastic effect of the environment.

The country aims to create a circular economy in no less than 1000 cities. The IEC hopes to work with China on these projects, and is also interested in development issues.

Resource-efficiency is one of the seven flagship initiatives in the 'Europe 2020' strategy for sustainable growth and jobs, endorsed by EU heads of states in 2010.

The concept means decoupling economic growth from natural resource use – including raw materials, commodities, water, air or ecosystems.

The European Commission unveiled its Roadmap to a Resource Efficient Europe in September 2011, recommending the introduction of resource-efficiency indicators and targets across the 27-nation bloc.

The roadmap followed the adoption of a first policy paper in January, which established resource efficiency as the guiding principle behind EU policies in almost all sectors – energy, transport, commodities, industry, agriculture, fisheries, biodiversity and regional development.

  • 13 Nov. 2013: Circular Economy Club to hold a forum in Paris.

European Commission

Ellen Mac Arthur Foundation

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