Rebuilding a circular economy should come naturally

Many of the most effective solutions to our global crises are inherent to our planet and to us as humans

A scavenger collects used plastic at a landfill in Denpasar, on Indonesia's resort island of Bali. The modern economy has been built on a linear model: taking resources, using them up and throwing them away. AFP
Powered by automated translation

The transition towards a circular economy begins with our commitment to the planet, to people and to ourselves. It involves a recognition of our responsibility to care for the environment around us – for the betterment of our lives and those of generations ahead.

Today, we are facing a triple planetary crisis: climate change, biodiversity loss and pollution. Each of these crises has its own causes, symptoms and solutions, but figuring out how the world can tackle all three at the same time, with the urgency that is required, is an intimidating thought.

And when we speak broadly of the economy, industry and infrastructure, or hear technical terms like “ESG” or “carbon capture”, it can be easy to disconnect from the urgency of the problems being discussed.

There is no single solution to the climate change puzzle; we must all collaborate to find the macro and micro-solutions that fit together to unlock progress.

Some of the most effective solutions are also some of the most inherent and natural to our planet and to us as humans. The modern economy has been built on a linear model: taking resources, using them up and throwing them away. Now, we need to rebuild a ‘circular economy’ inspired by the life-giving resources and regenerative abundance of our Earth. This means finding new ways to reduce our use of natural materials, extend the lifecycle of the products we create, and recycle and reuse materials in perpetuity.

The realities of climate change, pollution and biodiversity loss are formidable, and often feel insurmountable. But it inspires me to think of the work being done not as a complete transformation, but rather, a process of getting us back on track to living in sustainable harmony with our planet.

We need to create circular societies – including in areas like education, resources and mobility. These solutions should be designed to sustain the progress we make and have purpose at every phase of action.

Currently, we face great disparity between the value of circular trade and the opportunities of the global North and global South – in terms of representation, financial gains and economic development. Equality is more than simply a goal of sustainability – it is a key that will unlock great progress.

Climate change is a borderless challenge, and one that can only be faced through the power of the collective.

We must progress together. We must not get lost in the complexity of this space, and we must remain steadfast on the ethics and true intentions in circular trade. Our focus must remain on making the best use of what we have and empowering the next generation to do better.

The youth of our world, no matter where, have creativity, ambition and determination in abundance. I have had the privilege of witnessing these qualities first-hand through our work at the UAE Independent Climate Change Accelerators. We recognise the importance of creating the conditions that empower young innovators to realise their ideas and speed up practical climate solutions.

The young innovators that I speak to in the UAE and around the world are driven by an innate and powerful commitment to environmental protection

For example, take Zach Faizal, the 23-year-old chief executive of Peec Mobility, one of the start-ups participating in UICCA’s accelerator programme. Mr Faizal and his team are working to advance the petrol-to-electric transition by extending the life cycle of retired petrol vehicles with electric engines.

UICCA works hand in hand with our ambitious start-ups to equip them with exactly the tools, support and environment they need to thrive and bring their ideas to market successfully.

For Peec, we recently hosted our first Policy Hack, convening representatives from public sector entities like the Ministry of Climate Change and Environment and the Ministry of Economy. Also involved was the transport sector, including Abu Dhabi Department of Municipalities and Transport and National Taxi Dubai, as well as private sector entities such as Careem, Howden Insurance and Lloyds Bank.

The event created a productive dialogue between key players on how the UAE can lead the way in repurposing petrol vehicles as an effective and sustainable alternative to producing brand-new electric vehicles, and how we can collaborate to help Peec get their first vehicles safely and legally on the road.

Another shining example of a youth-led organisation that is committed to driving this agenda forward is Rebound Exchange, which is creating a digital trading platform for bulk recycled plastics in 140 countries.

Its founder and chief executive is an impressive young Emirati named Maryam Al Mansoori, with whom I recently enjoyed a conversation. Our discussions centred on the challenges faced in helping a successful transition to a circular economy, and the role the recycling industry places in unlocking the opportunity around trading waste.

“Moving from a linear to circular economy means that business leaders need to be brave. To be brave enough to do things differently and have an appetite to try,” Maryam told me. “Instead of simply ‘taking action,’ these companies need to see that environmental impact is as valuable as profitability.”

There is immense wisdom in these words, and they demonstrate the unique perspectives and skill sets our young people can bring to the table.

In turn, it is our responsibility to nurture these future leaders, create opportunities for them to grow their ideas and, wherever we can, open the path for them to succeed.

The young innovators that I speak to in the UAE and around the world are driven by an innate and powerful commitment to environmental protection. They are fearless in their determination to solve this problem, and it is imperative that all of us stand shoulder to shoulder with them.

The great tennis player and activist Arthur Ashe said: “Start where you are, use what you have, do what you can” – simple, but powerful words.

So, let us start where we are, and accept the challenge of creating real, measurable and tangible change to preserve our planet and re-make the global economy in a more sustainable way.

Published: June 18, 2023, 7:00 AM