How adopting a circular economy can create a sustainable future for the GCC
Simon Penney, Her Majesty's Trade Commissioner (HTMC) for the Middle East speaks on why a circular economy is important in the GCC region
Recently, the circular economy has become a hot topic in the Gulf. Governments are asking what it is, how it benefits countries, and how to adopt it.
Simply put, a circular economy is one that maximises the use of existing resources in order to minimise waste and carbon emissions. Reducing a country’s carbon footprint is a priority on every national agenda, as it should be. The traditional “take, make, dispose” point of view no longer has a place in a progressive and sustainable global society.
The simple principle of a circular economy is based around the notion that everything extracted from nature can return to nature and be recycled indefinitely, in what is known as a ‘closed-loop’ production system. It is by no means a new idea, but greater understanding is definitely needed. While recycling is a core aspect of the circular economy model, it is only one part of a much bigger picture. Two key drivers to a successful circular economy are the sustainable production of resources, and the close management of the demand for these resources.
One of the first attempts to develop a closed-loop production system was Steve D. Parker’s research project to explore the use of waste as a resource in the UK agricultural sector in 1982, designing a system to turn waste into nutrients to feed the ecosystem it was taken from.
Today, countries around the world are exploring how best to create a circular economy. The GCC has recently taken big steps towards making this a reality. Gulf economies are championing the efficient use of natural resources by placing this practice at the core of their national visions and economic strategies. Saudi Vision 2030, Kuwait Vision 2035, UAE Vision 2021 and the UAE Strategy for the Future all look towards adopting a holistic circular economy approach, exploring ways in which to recover and reuse natural and other resources.
Dubai, in particular, is steadily delivering against its goal to have the world's lowest carbon footprint by 2050. And there’s no doubt that the circular economy model will play a pivotal role in reaching this objective.
The emirate has invested in several initiatives to develop its clean energy sector. Dubai is striking the delicate balance of achieving its economic objectives while keeping up the pace on delivering its environmental goals. The Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum Solar Park, developed and managed by Dubai Electricity & Water Authority (DEWA), is one of the emirate’s key initiatives to meet the target set out in the Dubai Clean Energy Strategy (DCES), which aims to produce 75% of the city's energy requirements from clean sources by 2050.
In April 2019, the UAE government became the first to sign the “Scale 360” initiative by the World Economic Forum, which is looking to employ Fourth Industrial Revolution technologies to establish a highly efficient circular economy. Technologies such as the Internet of Things (IoT) have tremendous potential to combat waste by using digital data to track, monitor and assess the condition of materials before ensuring their return to the recycling process.
This will, in future, form the foundation of sustainable production and the preservation of resources in smart cities.
While these developments are incredibly positive, it is important to remember the role that smart technologies play in successful circular economies; they need to be deployed across all infrastructural elements including water, energy, telecommunications, transportation, utilities, construction and waste management, to name but a few.
One way to accelerate the pace of adoption of a circular economy is to collaborate with international partners with the right experience and expertise to complement the efforts already underway in the region. The United Kingdom, for example, has proven strengths in integrating smart systems at a city level, and collaborating with cities such as Dubai would result in a meaningful transfer of knowledge and sharing of best practices.
According to a report by POLITICO, the UK ranks second in the European Circular Economy Index and has pioneering experience and expertise in this area. There are numerous examples that demonstrate how UK companies have helped governments and private entities around the world to achieve tangible transformation in this space. As an example, the Desolenator project in Dubai uses solar energy exclusively to purify water from any source, including seawater; it has proved to be useful in water-scarce areas, or where the sea is the only source available. The initiative has already won an Innovation Grant from Expo Live, a programme launched by Expo 2020 Dubai to drive creative solutions which generate social value in line with the key Expo themes of Sustainability, Opportunity and Mobility.
Just last year, the UK Green Building Council (UKGBC) launched its Circular Economy Program. A key achievement in its first year was the production of a comprehensive practical guide for governments or corporations looking to incorporate sustainable principles into their projects. UKGBC also created a map of resources and initiatives built around the circular economy model, which helps organisations to apply current knowledge and proven practices without having to reinvent the wheel.
To support these efforts, the UK has organised several leading conferences and exhibitions globally, showcasing how the transfer of knowledge and implementation of smart city technologies can lead to successful circular economies. Key events include the Smart Cities UK Forum, London Tech Week, Intelligent Transport Conference and the IoT Tech Expo, which is the world's largest series of IoT conferences. Such events are crucial in bringing together key players from around the world to witness the latest solutions, and explore possible ways to collaborate with other leaders in the field.
All of this is only a small part of the growing global focus on marrying economic goals with environmental sustainability, and the GCC is well placed to excel in this area. Whilst sustainable business models are a goal for many companies, concerns about the resulting impact on the bottom line remain. The answer to these concerns is simple; applying the model in the right way can bring enormous economic benefits to businesses and individuals alike.
We are increasingly seeing GCC governments supporting this trend by putting in place the right legislation, and adopting innovative approaches at national and regional levels, while working with key global partners to implement international best practices. There is no doubt that the best is yet to come.