Daniel Calleja: “To recover from this crisis, circularity has to become the norm”
The Director-General for the DG for Environment at the European Commission, Daniel Calleja, discussed in depth with Eurochile about the measures that Europe is taking to initiate the recovery of the economies and communities following the coronavirus pandemic, which, he assures “has exposed and exacerbated the vulnerability of our globalized world.” He explains the reconstruction plan that the European Commission is promoting and the role that the new European Green Deal will have in this matter.
The Director-General of the DG for Environment, Spanish national, Daniel Calleja, has an experience of more than 30 years in the institution and has witnessed a large part of the processes of change that have been carried out in the European continent in the last years. And today, from his position, he is at the forefront of defining strategies that help that continent to cope with the impacts caused by the coronavirus pandemic.
A crisis, says Callejas, which is changing the world and that, in the case of Europe, will give greater boost to the shift towards sustainable development and the circular economy. He also talks about the role that Latin America will have and the cooperation between countries to advance in this line. “We look forward to working with Chile to promote the Circular Economy and drive the sustainable transition further”, he claims.
Today, it seems that Europe went through the worst of the crisis and is starting to revive some sectors of society and the economy. What is happening in this continent today?
Currently, the European Commission is fully mobilised to protect citizens’ health and address the social and economic effects of the crisis. We are working, together with the Member States, towards robust and effective recovery strategies to recover from the pandemic.
Europe after this crisis will be very different. The pandemic has exposed and exacerbated the vulnerability of our globalised and interconnected world. Its impact on our health, societies and economies is profound and long-lasting.
But this difficult moment offers also an opportunity to lay the ground to put resilience and sustainability at its core. In essence, this means better protecting and restoring our nature and ecosystems, accelerating the transition to the circular economy and scaling up our actions on climate change so that by 2050 there will be no net carbon emissions.
What do you think will be the main impacts that this crisis will have on Europe, and at global level?
COVID-19 is changing the world. The economic, social/societal impacts around the globe are dramatic, posing huge challenges and threatening to reverse the developmental gains of recent years. Global solidarity is more important than ever. Of course, the public health crisis is the most urgent challenge to address.
At the same time the Commission’s efforts have been focused on developing an ambitious strategy to promote the economic recovery of our continent. In a downturn, we must focus on policies that spur growth and create jobs, but don’t lock us in to the technologies of the past. We need investment in sectors that build resilience like smart circular economy, renovation wave and clean transport, but also in ecosystems, and in protecting and restoring biodiversity, in line with the Biodiversity Strategy and the upcoming Strategy for Forests.
Confinement has helped us understand how valuable nature is, how important the green spaces in our cities are, and how much we crave the clean air we could suddenly enjoy. I believe this experience will contribute to a long-term re-orientation of our policies in Europe and abroad, to better live with and as part of nature.
The President of the European Commission, Ursula von der Leyen, presented a plan to mobilise EUR 2.2 trillion for reconstruction. How will these resources be distributed, to which sectors of the economy, for example?
The funding will be spread in 3 pillars: €540 billions to support Member States immediate recovery, €1100 billions in an enhanced multi annual financial framework over the coming years and € 750 billions for the recovery, boosting investments, to overcome the crisis.
The recovery plan is based on three pillars. The first pillar, a new Recovery and Resilience Facility of €560 billions of which €310 billion for grants and €250 billion in loans. It will offer financial support for investments and reforms, including in relation to the green and digital transitions and the resilience of national economies. It will be available for all Member States but will concentrate on the most needed areas.
The second pillar seeks to mobilise private resources with the provisioning of an EU budget guarantee for financing of investment projects via the EIB group and national promotional banks and €15.3 billion for InvestEU. The Solvency Support Instrument, which will mobilise private resources to support companies in the sectors most affected, preparing them for a cleaner, digital and resilient future. In addition, the Strategic Investment Facility to boost the resilience of strategic sectors, notably those linked to the green and digital transition and key value chains in the internal market.
The third pillar focuses on a new EU4Health program, the Union’s Civil Protection Mechanism, rescEU and the reinforcement of Horizon Europe to fund vital research in health, resilience and the green and digital transitions.
How will this reconstruction work? What will be the European Green Deal, and the new Circular Economy Action Plan, which will be at the forefront of the post of COVID-19?
The Recovery Package adopted by the Commission reinforces the status of the European Green Deal as Europe’s growth strategy.
As we exit the immediate crisis, its proposals will have a central role to play in the EU’s recovery efforts, and in achieving a just, sustainable and rapid recovery and ultimately a just and fair transition, which leaves no-one behind.
To get there, we will need more circularity in the most important sectors such as construction, renewable energies, chemicals, textiles, tourism and agriculture. That is why the EU Recovery Plan strongly insists on the role of circular economy and the green economy to reboot the economy, create new jobs and reduce the EU’s dependency on external suppliers.
Reference is made to three or four years, which in normal time would have been 15 or 20 years. Is this acceleration feasible? Because it needs resources that are probably not necessarily available today.
Just between 2012 and 2018 the number of jobs linked to the circular economy in the EU grew by 5% to reach around 4 million, showing the impact that circular economy measures can have, even in a relatively short timespan.
To reach a truly circular economy, the whole lifecycle of products has to be addressed; that is why the new CEAP announces initiatives for the entire life cycle of products, from design and manufacturing to consumption, repair, reuse, recycling, and bringing resources back into the economy.
It’s also a question of momentum, and critical mass. When you really close a loop, you create a virtuous circle, which becomes self-sustaining. That’s the long-term goal, but it can happen quite quickly under the right circumstances, as we see from the circular economy industrial parks that are becoming more common.
In January, you raised the view that the green deal is the response not only to these climate and environmental challenges, but also to the social challenges involved. What is the dimension of these words, in times of economic and social reconstruction?
Many people, regions and sectors hit hardest by the crisis will also have to make a bigger change than most. The Commission is therefore proposing to strengthen the Just Transition Fund with an additional €32.5 billion in order to alleviate the socio-economic impacts of the transition.
Going green is good for the planet, but we are really doing this for citizens and our wellbeing. There is no doubt about the benefits created by a transition to a circular economy. The monitoring framework we adopted under the first action plan tells us that in 2017, sectors relevant to the circular economy already employed around 3.5 million workers. It has opened up new business opportunities, fostered new business models and developed new markets, domestically and outside the EU. In 2017, circular activities such as repair, reuse and recycling generated almost €128 billion in value added, and also accounted for around €15 billion worth of investments.
But it’s not just about numbers. It’s about the sort of future we want. The future that citizens want. And it seems very clear to me that in the wake of this crisis, citizens will back everything that leads to greater sustainability. Because it’s so obviously in their interest, in the short and the longer term.
What would be the first elements of a green recovery?
In line with the Green Deal, we will embark on a number of initiatives very quickly, for example
– A Renovation Wave will create jobs in the construction sector, reduce energy poverty and provide healthier living conditions for EU citizens.
– Investment in clean technologies and value chains will be unlocked through additional funding for our Research Programme Horizon Europe, and the new Strategic Investment Facility will invest in key technologies for the clean energy transition, such as renewable and energy storage technologies, clean hydrogen, batteries, carbon capture and storage and sustainable energy infrastructure.
– A focus on accelerating the production and deployment of sustainable vehicles and vessels and alternative fuels encompasses the installation of 1 million charging points, clean fleet renewals sustainable transport infrastructure and a shift to clean urban mobility will be supported by funds such as the Connecting Europe Facility and InvestEU.
How will this be translated, in concrete terms, in circular economy?
To recover from this crisis, circularity has to become the norm. We are working to ensure we make the most out of our opportunities. The EU Recovery Plan strongly insists on the role of circular economy and the green economy to reboot the economy, create new jobs and reduce the EU’s dependency on external suppliers.
Our new Circular Economy Action Plan will help keep our resource consumption within the planetary boundaries, in reducing our consumption footprint, and in doubling circular material use rates in the coming decade. Products placed on the EU market should be designed to last, easier to repair, and use more recycled materials. If our smartphones lasted just one year longer, it would be the same, in terms of carbon emissions, of taking one million cars off the road.
The 35 initiatives included in the action plan aim at making sustainable products, services and business models the norm, not the exception. The Plan also addresses key product value chains and promotes circularity and value retention along the entire production chain.
This will require broad support from governments, citizens, but also from companies and industries. Is there a consensus, the conviction of all actors, that this is the road?
We have every indication that there is such a consensus. When introducing our recovery plan to the European Parliament, President von der Leyen reaffirmed that we have to “strengthen our economies by focusing on our common priorities, like the European Green Deal, Digitalization and Resilience.”
The EU Member States Heads of State and Government underlined already back in March that we should start to prepare the measures necessary to get back to the normal functioning of our societies and economies and to sustainable growth, integrating the green transition and the digital transformation, and drawing all lessons from the crisis. Earlier in April, Environment Ministers from 17 Member States had called on the Commission in an open letter to “use the European Green Deal as a framework for this exercise [the EUCO discussions] and thereby to keep momentum by implementing its initiatives.”
Another example is the alliance of 180 European politicians, business leaders, Members of the European Parliament and environmental activists called in an open letter on 14 April for a “Reboot and reboost our economy for a sustainable future”.
The support is there, and I’m not surprised. The advantages are very real!
How does the situation in Latin America give rise to differences in Europe?
Latin America is a key partner for the EU with increasingly strategic importance in global environmental and climate issues. A recent example of good cooperation was the COP25 presided by Chile in December 2019 in Madrid. We jointly organised very successful side events on circular economy in particular with Eurochile, and also with the youth and citizens, where Executive Vice-President Timmermans launched the European Green Deal.
The EGD explicitly mentions the importance of relations with Latin American, and envisages to mobilise all the EU’s diplomatic and financial tools to ensure that green policies play a key role in our relations with the region. With this new impetus, the EU and Latin America should continue to work together to address global environmental challenges, both by strengthening our bilateral cooperation and by cooperating in relevant multilateral fora.
In a green recovery scenario, this should be comprehensive in order to be effective. How will we maintain European support for the circular economy in Latin America? What role will the funding bodies play in this?
The global transformation will not be achieved by any country or region acting alone. It is all about cooperation. In Europe, we will try to lead by example, and work with others to promote a global green transition as an essential elements to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals and the Paris agreement. The EU will use its diplomatic and financial tools to ensure that green alliances are part of its relations with Africa and other partner countries and regions, including in Latin America. We will also step up our international partnerships, and continue to make available expertise and financial resources, both public and private funds, as part of our significant development cooperation.
The climate elements will be crucial. The Commission proposal for a Neighbourhood, Development and International Cooperation Instrument proposes to allocate a target of 25% of its budget to climate-related objectives. The Commission will also support the commitment made by national public financial resources to improve the investment climate and achieve contributions from the private sector. This work will need to be accompanied by opportunities to de-risk investments in sustainable development through tools such as funding guarantees and blended financing.
On key areas as on Circular Economy, the Commission has proposed launching a Global Circular Economy Alliance to identify knowledge and governance gaps in advancing a global circular economy and take forward partnership initiatives, including with major economies. We are now in the process of elaborating in more detail the objectives and actions of the Alliance. As to its membership, we are looking at those countries that are interested in furthering the global transition to a climate-neutral, resource-efficient and circular economy in multilateral fora. Chile could be one of such countries.
Chile is working on its roadmap for the circular economy, a work that is led by Eurochile and which is very much about the European experience in this area. How important is this work today, where emphasis should be put?
I am very pleased to hear this, because I led the first ever EU Circular Economy Mission to Santiago de Chile in 2016. Since then, a number of technical exchanges and follow-up actions have taken place to step up our exchange of experiences on Circular Economy in line with our Environment Cooperation Arrangement signed in 2016, and my services took part in one of the workshops to develop this roadmap.
The golden rule is to make sure you are addressing the whole life cycle, from design and manufacturing to use and recycling. If you neglect one element, the whole can’t function – you have to complete the loop. And of course, you have to build support across society – you can’t just impose and hope for the best. Circularity is all about building bridges!
We look forward to working with Chile to promote the Circular Economy and drive the sustainable transition further.
In the end, is the circular economy the way to a new type of development and what could this mean for Chile?
Promoting a more circular economy is entirely opposed to the old linear “take-make-dispose” model which is no longer viable.
The benefits of circularity derive from retaining more value from the materials, energy and products in our economies through the lifecycle analysis in all phases.
This implies many opportunities to improve the wellbeing of our citizens and to develop new business models, whilst at the same time decoupling these activities from the use of natural resources. Transitioning to a more circular economy, where the value of products, materials and resources is maintained for as long as possible and the generation of waste is minimised, is an essential contribution to develop a competitive, sustainable, climate-neutral and resource-efficient economy. A circular economy helps create new business opportunities through innovative and more efficient production methods. Local jobs will be created at all skills levels, with opportunities for social integration.
I believe the circular economy offers a great opport for countries like Chile to move forward. There is in my view no alternative. The future will be circular. If we want to successfully respond to these challenges, I have no doubt that those who decisively move in this direction will have the first movers’ advantage. Chile can, in this area, lead the efforts of Latin America from the front. You have everything to gain.