How a Circular Economy can contribute to Climate Change Resilience and Energy Access in the Caribbea
Climate change effects such as sea-level rise and more frequent and stronger hurricanes are constantly threatening the Caribbean population and its economy. As it has been pointed out by the Caribbean Development Bank (2014), the losses from climate change related events can rise to 1-3% of GDP annually being the main affected sectors agriculture, tourism and potable water services, calling urgently for solutions and economic diversification to create a resilient economy (Haskins 2012).
Moreover, Caribbean’s dependency on imported fossil fuels to generate 90-100% of its energy needs is leading to an increasingly harder-to-obtain and expensive energy supply. Retail electricity prices in the Caribbean islands are among the highest in world, ranging between $0.20 and $0.50 per kilowatt hour and are significantly more expensive than average electricity prices in the residential areas of the United States where customers pay $0.13 per kilowatt hour(Morris & Bunker 2014).
Some island nations being, aware of their vulnerability to climate change effects as well as the impact on their current energy systems, have been undertaking actions such as shifting towards renewable energy and adopting different climate mitigation and adaptation policies. Despite these measures can serve as positive steps toward sustainability, a recent analysis from Circle Economy & Ecofys (2016) has indicated that solutions that go beyond decarbonizing our energy system are required to achieve the ambitious target of limiting global average temperature to 1.5°C established in the COP21 Paris Agreement and it is suggested exploring the different options that a Circular Economy (CE) offers to reduce Green House Gases (GHG) emissions.
Within a Circular Economy framework renewable energy and climate change are explicitly addressed. Thus, a CE aims to “preserve and enhance natural capital” by choosing technologies that use renewable resources and avoiding the depletion of finite materials such as fossil fuels. Moreover, as a fundamental principle “fostering system effectiveness” implies avoiding negative externalities such as climate change to reduce damage to human utility (Ellen MacArthur Foundation 2017). In fact, as one of the most influential schools of thought, the Cradle to Cradle® philosophy also embraces the shift to renewable sources of energy by promoting the use of 100% renewable energy in the design and production of any good.
Other points of view have also supported energy transitions to renewables resources as a key enabler of a Circular Economy, for example, in the assessment of the circularity of the global economy Haas et al. (2015) concluded that since 98% of the fossil energy carriers are used to produce energy in an irreversible way (combustion), it is not possible to recirculate these products, except plastics and other few materials, reducing in this way the progress of a more circular economy.
Moreover, the adoption of different circular economy business models leads to significant reduction of GHG emissions. Circle Economy & Ecofys (2016) have explored the circular strategies that would support this reduction in three sectors with the highest emissions globally: Industry which contributes with 29% of the total emissions, Agriculture (contribution of 20% of total emissions) and Construction sector with a participation of 18% in the total emissions. Some of the most relevant circular business opportunities in these sectors for the Caribbean include but are not limited to product life extension and remanufacturing, biological nutrient cascading and the construction of Net Zero Energy buildings. Some application examples are presented as follows:
Product life extension and Remanufacturing: these circular business models encourage the design and production of durable goods promoting value preservation in time. Thus, some new paradigms for design must be adopted such as design to recover materials, design for disassembly and design for remanufacturing. When a product is intentionally designed to be durable and with the potential to be remanufactured, all its components must be carefully selected and assembled so that, at the end-of-its use cycle, they can be easily collected and reassembled in other products. As Webster (2016) points out, these activities significantly cut energy use and materials waste. Some emerging business models which have embraced the design of durable goods have shifted from a selling-products business to one based on services obtaining important savings in materials, energy and reducing GHG emissions. For example, the chemical leasing scheme adopted by FKL in Serbia, who changed the usual business model of buying solvents for cleaning metallic parts by one where they pay for the cleaning service under a fixed-term contract. In other words, they pay by an hour of service instead of by liters of solvent. In the new scheme, as it has been reported, solvents consumption has been reduced by 80% and emissions by 300.000 tons of carbon dioxide per year due to energy savings (Circle Economy; Ecofys 2016).
Biological nutrients cascading: There are different examples where the potential economic value of organic waste is displayed while reducing its environmental effect when it is discarded, for example by methane production. In Brazil, the cascading of this waste for producing fertilizer through composting processes has been a very appealing option for the emerging organic farming. Furthermore, the production of cooking gas and fertilizer through anaerobic biodigesters has been an effective solution to access to energy resources and agricultural productivity in rural areas of Brazil (Gower & Schöder 2016).
Net Zero Energy Buildings: The design and construction of net zero energy consumption buildings could gain importance within a CE framework for the Caribbean. An example of this initiative has been realized in India by minimizing energy demand and meeting the demand with renewable energy (solar systems). The energy conservation and efficiency is achieved by the design of the ventilation system for the optimal use of natural ventilation and energy-efficient lighting. Moreover, the water use is also optimized by capturing, treating and reusing for plant irrigation (Ellen MacArthur Foundation 2016).
As an official member of the UN Sustainable Development Network, ASDF is committed to realize the United Nation’s Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). Therefore, the suggestions presented in this blog are directly linked to SDG 7 (Affordable and Clean Energy) and SDG 13 (Climate Action). By fostering a Circular Economy for climate change resilience and energy access, it is possible to accomplish Targets 7.1 (ensure universal and affordable energy access), 7.2 (increase the share of renewable energy), 7.3 (improve energy efficiency), 7.5 (expand infrastructure for sustainable energy in small island developing States), and 13.1 (strengthen climate change resilience) (United Nations 2017).
As a founding member of the Circular Economy Platform of the Americas (CEP-Americas), ASDF is committed to engage with like-minded individuals and organizations to explore, identify, and realize innovative solutions inspired by the Circular Economy principles to address climate change mitigation and energy access along all the nations in the Americas. For more information please visit: www.sustainableamericas.com.
Caribbean Development Bank, 2014. A New Paradigm for Caribbean Development: Transitioning to a Green Economy, Saint Michael. Available at: http://www.oecd-ilibrary.org/commonwealth/economics/transitioning-to-a-green-economy/the-political-economy-of-transitioning-to-a-green-economy-in-guyana_9781848599178-6-en.
Circle Economy; Ecofys, 2016. Implementing circular economy globally makes Paris targets achievable, Available at: http://www.ecofys.com/en/publications/circular-economy-white-paper-ecofys-circle-economy/.
Ellen MacArthur Foundation, 2016. Circular Economy in India: Rethinking growth for long-term prosperity., Available at: http://www.ellenmacarthurfoundation.org/publications/.
Ellen MacArthur Foundation, 2017. Circular Economy Overview. Available at: https://www.ellenmacarthurfoundation.org/circular-economy/overview/principles [Accessed January 19, 2017].
Gower, R. & Schöder, P., 2016. Virtous Circle: How the circular economy can create jobs and save lives in low and middle-income countries, Teddington. Available at: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Virtuous_circle_and_vicious_circle.
Haas, W. et al., 2015. How circular is the global economy?: An assessment of material flows, waste production, and recycling in the European Union and the World in 2005. Journal of Industrial Ecology, 19(5), pp.765–777.
Haskins, J., 2012. Building Resilience in small island economies, Wageningen.
Lovins, A.B., 2014. A Farewell to Fossil Fuels: Answering the Energy Challenge. In A New Dynamic: Effective Business in a Circular economy. Ellen MacArthur Foundation Publishing.
Morris, J. & Bunker, K., 2014. Four Reasons Why Natural Gas is the Wrong Choice for Electricity in the Caribbean. Rocky Mountain Institute. Available at: http://blog.rmi.org/blog_2014_10_23_four_reasons_why_natural_gas_is_wrong_for_electricity_in_the_caribbean [Accessed January 19, 2017].
Webster, K., 2016. The Circular Economy: A Wealth of Flows Second Edi. Ellen MacArthur, ed., Kindle Version: Ellen MacArthur Foundation Publishing.
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