I’m delighted to share an interesting interview made by an important international organization about the reality of the circular economy in Latin America — Enjoy!
Is a move to a circular economy particularly important for the Latin American region in comparison with other regions?
The transition towards a circular economy is particularly important in Latin America, because it is a paradigmatic region. According to the World Bank, Latin America generates 160 million tons of solid waste per year -with an average per capita of 1.1 kg/day- of which less than 3% is reused or recycled. However, it is expected that by 2030 the region will increase its population by 17%, reaching 705 million, increasing its generation of waste per capita by 45%, reaching 1.6 kg per day. Furthermore, in Latin America more than 60% of waste ends up in improperly controlled landfills. The composition of solid waste has also changed from being mostly organic to being mostly non-biodegradable. In fact, the region currently produces 9% of the world’s total electronic waste and is expected to increase to 15% by 2019. On the other hand, Latin America is known for its abundance in natural resources, accounting for 44% of world’s copper, 49% of silver, 65% of lithium, 20% of world’s oil reserves, 33% of freshwater reserves and 20% of native forests on the Earth. The circular economy is the opportunity for Latin America to leapfrog from a linear to a circular economy, by incorporating technologies and developing industries 4.0, allowing the region to actively participate of the fourth industrial revolution.
Is a circular economy more viable and/or more easily achieved in certain countries or sub-regions than others? (thinking perhaps of differences between the situation in countries of the southern cone and the situation in Bolivia, Ecuador, Central America). If so, what are the reasons/trends?
Latin America represents 13% of the Earth’s land surface, and counts with 33 countries with a diversity of cultures and different levels of economic and social development. There are certainly some countries and sub-regions where the circular economy has found fertile ground to grow; such is the case in countries like Chile, Uruguay, Perú, Brazil, Colombia and México, where the mix of a powerful entrepreneurial ecosystem with proactive governments has allowed the creation of several public and private circular initiatives. As said before, Latin America is region rich in natural resources, and mining has become a major player in the fight against climate change, through the exploitation of key resources for our low-carbon future, such as copper and lithium; mining is a really important industry in the sub-region or northern Chile, north of Argentina and south of Perú, where currently 40% of the world’s copper is produced and over 75% of existing known lithium reserves are located, becoming a tremendous opportunity of creating territorial circular economy models with mining equipment, technology and services (METS) companies that can collaborate together in this sub-region, at the same time assuring the supply of these important resources until other activities -such as urban mining, reverse logistic and remanufacturing- start replacing this extractive activity in the transition towards a circular economy.
“The circular economy is the opportunity for Latin America to leapfrog from a linear to a circular economy, by incorporating technologies and developing industries 4.0, allowing the region to actively participate of the fourth industrial revolution”
What government policies are working most effectively and what in our view should be done better to advance to a circular economy at the level of government policy?
The case of Chile is particularly interesting; the Chilean entrepreneurship and innovation ecosystem has embraced the circular economy as a new model of thinking, producing and consuming, creating new companies that develop technologies and circular business models. At the same time, Chile’s Production Development Corporation (Corfo) has played a big role in supporting the development of a circular economy, launching in 2018 the first public circular economy program in Latin America, where 115 projects were presented, with 25 winners selected, this success allowed to repeat this experience again this year under the name of “Join the Circular Economy”. The same happens with the Ministry of the Environment that is already working on a Map of Actors and a Roadmap of Circular Economy and that will crown this 2019 with the realization of the COP25 in Chile, where the circular model will be a central subject. Finally, I cannot miss the opportunity to point out the great work we are developing from my hometown in the desert of Tarapacá in northern Chile (considered the driest place on Earth), where all the local actors have taken as their sole and common goal to become the “Capital of the Circular Economy” and where we will install the first Technological Center of Circular Economy in Latin America, supported precisely by Corfo, Regional Government of Tarapacá and private actors of the region. Uruguay is another great example of government policies with initiatives, where UNIDO has also played a major role, as Biovalor, “Circular Opportunities” and the new circular economy award. However, everyday we learn from more initiatives all over Latin America, showing that the circular economy is here to stay.
“Latin America is region rich in natural resources, and mining has become a major player in the fight against climate change, through the exploitation of key resources for our low-carbon future, such as copper and lithium”
What can Latin American countries learn from the experience of the circular economy in other regions and is there anything that Latin American countries can share to help countries in other regions?
We are currently living in the fourth industrial revolution, and we have to consider that for the last 250 years, Latin America has never played an important role on the previous three industrial revolutions and that since the 70’s, the region experienced a really aggressive deindustrialization process, creating a huge technological gap. Naturally we can learn a lot from experiences in Europe North America and Asia, but we need to be careful in selecting experiences and cases with which we can relate with and that will consider our economic and social realities. Worldwide, there have been certain organizations that have pushed a very Eurocentric view of the circular economy, which has created some confusion among entrepreneurs, policy makers and society of the developing countries, especially in Latin America. That is why we need to create our own experiences in collaboration with international institutions, in order to develop share our own experiences with the world. I think that Latin America, as a resource rich region that is currently operating under a linear economy, with really low recycling rates, has a unique opportunity of learning from all the successes and errors made in developed countries that have already transitioned from a lineal to a recycling economy and that are now moving towards a circular economic model, allowing us to leapfrog directly to a circular economy, creating modern and sustainable infrastructure that can facilitate new circular business models in our region.
“Worldwide, there have been certain organizations that have pushed a very Eurocentric view of the circular economy, which has created some confusion among entrepreneurs, policy makers and society of the developing countries, especially in Latin America”
What can UNIDO do to help countries in Latin America advance with a circular economy?
UNIDO is already playing an important role in promoting the circular economy in Latin America. The office in charge of Chile, Argentina, Paraguay and Uruguay was key in creating the first Forum for the Circular Economy (fEC) first in Montevideo, Uruguay back in 2017, and in 2018 in Santiago, Chile; something similar happens with the office that covers Bolivia, Colombia, Ecuador, Perú, Suriname and Venezuela, which has pushed the circular model with activities mainly in Perú. These initiatives have all been developed in collaboration with local and national governments and have helped establish the circular model as a huge economic, social and environmental opportunity in each of those countries. UNIDO has also helped, with the assistance of the Climate Technology Centre and Network (CTCN), through technical assistance for the creation of circular economy roadmaps in Uruguay, Chile, Brazil and México. However, I think the most important role of UNIDO is to promote a smart, sustainable and modern re-industrialization of Latin America through the creation and attraction of industries 4.0, allowing our region to become an active part of the fourth industrial revolution under a circular economy model.
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