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20/11 Speech by Marie Christine Marghem, Federal minister of the environment

The transition to a circular society is not an end in itself. Circular Economy should be seen as an important enabler to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, biodiversity loss and hazardous substances in the environment, by radically changing our production and consumption patterns. Using less resources and keeping resources in the loop as long as possible are 2 equally important strategies for the transition to a circular society. Both strategies can trigger sustainable business and consumer models and futureproof shifts in industrial solutions. We currently see a lot of fascinating and promising pioneering initiatives, involving many different stakeholders.

As you have seen during your visits, activities in the field of circular economy are booming and not lacking in originality, whether in the field of sustainable chemistry, metal recovery and reuse, urban development or construction. Universities, public authorities, large companies, start-ups and even associations of women citizens are at work!

But those circular and low carbon models should outgrow the niches. They urgently need to become competitive and viable. Policy makers at national, regional and local levels have certain keys in hands to make circular models mainstream. By regulating, securing compliance, stimulating cooperation, creating knowledge networks, financing,.. But European harmonized and systemic action is an essential pre-condition to reform markets and consumer habits and make this transition work.  

With the new European Commission in the making, we see great opportunities for stepping up the efforts. I would like to take the opportunity to highlight Belgium’s priorities for Europe to make a transition to a circular society.

The European Greendeal can play a role, to shift the geer towards a more environmentally friendly circular future, by setting a clear common political agenda, identifying priorities and steering action on climate, biodiversity, circular economy and chemicals in a more integrated way.

A fundamentally shifting intervention here would be to develop EU wide the proper instruments to account natural capital correctly in our economy. The real cost of GhG emissions, of biodiversity loss, of using primary raw materials,… should be properly reflected in the price of commodities, products and services. A challenging but crucial priority for the coming years.

An equally important priority is the way we regulate consumer goods. In the coming years products put on the European market should be increasingly durable, reusable, repairable, recyclable, non-toxic and produced with high quality recycled material. In the Binding EU regulations should ensure that.

At the same time all efforts should be made to help transforming waste into resources again. Strengthening the demand side and the supply-side of secondary raw materials is equally important. Re-orienting public and private investment away from disposal, towards recycling, reuse or even sharing infrastructure is an essential step. Harmonised End of Waste criteria for important streams such as plastics continue to be a priority. Mandatory EU rules on circular procurement criteria or targets will have clear effect on the internal market, both on the demand and supply side.

The circular transition will only succeed if it is fair and inclusive. We do see growing awareness and pioneering initiatives. But as long as large groups of citizens and consumers don’t feel convinced of the need, do not feel involved or attracted and as long as they are not affordable, circular and low carbon business models will not become mainstream and viable. Here we still have to come a long way to reach out to broad societal groups, to find ways to convince them and to make efforts affordable. Using public money to direct efforts is one strand of actions, stepping up efforts on education and training is another. Providing correct and transparent information to consumers is equally important.

We believe that focused sectoral approaches are the right way to go. We support the proposal to transform the construction sector into a more resource efficient and low carbon sector. Looking -besides energy performance of building- also at the material performance is an important step to be taken over the next years. Textiles is another sector with high social and environmental impacts worldwide, where EU policies can have a positive impact.

That brings us to our last priority, the international dimension of circular economy. Closing loops within the EU and reducing GHG in our territory does not avoid that European production and consumption models continue to generate a heavy environmental footprint globally. How to deal with that? What role can trade policy play? Can European product policy measures make a difference? Or a new taxation system? Those questions should also be in the heart of the political debate over the next years.