Nigeria needs circular economy action plan

While we are still reeling in the pains of a nationwide flood, there is a widespread expectation that our leaders should do the needful by ensuring that we never suffer like this again. But the truth is that there is no silver bullet that can stop flooding entirely, or that will abruptly halt our slide towards poverty and hunger. Yet, if our political leaders can take up the gauntlet, there is a window of opportunity that stares us in the face right now. The circular economy concept is a solution that holds the promise of solving most of our socio-economic challenges seamlessly and concertedly, mainly because it could help us make money while tackling the root cause of our ecological woes; climate change.

What exactly is a circular economy or the circularity concept? A circular economy is an alternative to the usual linear economy which is given to making products, using products, and disposing products. In contrast to this linear model, resources are kept in use for as long as possible while maximum value is extracted from them whilst in use; then ancillary materials are recovered and products are regenerated at the end of each life.

In technical terms, a circular economy ensures closing material loops, through repair, reuse, recycling, refurbishment and remanufacturing of end-of-life products. It also concerns extending material loops through eco-design, which adds value by considering environmental aspects of all stages of the product development process and ensuring that products make the lowest environmental impact. On the same hand, it narrows the material loops through resource efficiency initiatives.

In practical terms, the circularity concept encourages citizens to use services as opposed to creating products. In read its job-creating potential – think of China that is deliberately transitioning from a manufacturing to a service economy in order to compete with America. Indeed, circular economy approaches can help businesses seize new opportunities and gain a competitive advantage, as well as contribute to achieving the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals.

This week is very important because for the first time after its inception in 2017, the world has gathered in Africa to discuss the circular economy. As you read this piece, the World Circular Economy Forum is ongoing in Kigali, Rwanda (December 6-8). It is actually a hybrid event because there are five African studio live events going on concurrently with Kigali. Through the Nigerian chapter of the Africa Circular Economy Network, Lagos hosts the Nigerian studio, with an industry tour, circular economy enterprise showcase, and dynamic industry-friendly panel conversations on “Circular trade and value chains,” “Catalysing finance for circularity in Nigeria ” and “From the ground up; building circular cities in Nigeria.”

It is the mother of them all because, since 2017, the forum presents the world’s leading circular economy solutions with business leaders, policymakers and experts participating around the world. A global initiative of Finland and the Finnish Innovation Fund Sitra, the first one hosted in Finland, identified key elements of a circular economy and showcased solutions and learnings from around the world, bringing together 1,500 people from more than 100 countries. The following year in Japan, more than 1,000 circular economy experts discussed creating a true circular economy by 2050. Interestingly, two years later, in Glasgow Climate Change Conference (COP26), the world agreed to a net-zero vision for 2050. Does this mean that the circular economy is locked into the zero-carbon vision? Obviously, yes.

To understand the scope of a practical national approach, let us look at France. After the world embraced circularity in 2017, the French government was the first to ban the destruction of unsold non-food products. Companies in France are required to reuse, donate, or recycle their unsold products, including food. France is also the first country to introduce a mandatory reparability index on electronic and electric products. In 2020, the country adopted the Anti-waste Law with the aim to eliminate waste and pollution as well as transform the system of production, distribution, and consumption to a circular economic model from the linear economic model. One of the targets contained in the law is the phasing out of single-use plastic packaging by 2040.

At a continental level, the European Commission adopted the new circular economy action plan in March 2020. It is one of the main building blocks of the European Green Deal, Europe’s new agenda for sustainable growth. The EU’s transition to a circular economy aims to reduce pressure on natural resources and create sustainable growth and jobs. It is also a prerequisite to achieving the EU’s 2050 climate neutrality target and halting biodiversity loss. The new action plan announces initiatives along the entire life cycle of products. It targets how products are designed, promotes circular economy processes, encourages sustainable consumption, and aims to ensure that waste is prevented and the resources used are kept in the EU economy for as long as possible.

Surely, considering the urgent need to transform our environment in response to climate change and our burgeoning population, the circularity concept is now like a race against time. The concern is that Nigeria should not be left behind in a journey it co-pioneered.

The Africa Circular Economy Alliance was established in 2017 during COP23 in Bonn, by the governments of South Africa, Nigeria and Rwanda. Its mission is to spur Africa’s transition to a circular economy at the country, regional and continental levels by operating as a collaborative platform to coordinate and link the various initiatives on the continent. Interestingly, among the three African co-founding countries, Rwanda is the only one that has developed a Circular Economy Action Plan and the Waste and Circular Economy Project Roadmap.

The circular economy could be the tool to help Africa leapfrog into an economic model that addresses multifaceted issues, such as poverty, poor infrastructure and unemployment, while also leaving more space for nature to thrive. Therefore, there is an urgent need for the Nigeria Circular Economy Working Group to intensify its efforts towards coming up with a circular economy action plan for the country. The outcomes from the World Circular Economy Forum’s Nigeria Studio should be mainstreamed nationally in order to enable critical sectors to adopt the circular model and guide the informal sector into using it to create livelihoods.

We cannot afford to be left behind. Our economy is truly at risk as the world is currently looking for a new industrial base now that we are moving towards a post-petroleum era. International investors are pulling their money out of businesses with high climate risks. The circular economy plays a key role in preventing climate change and is a catalyst in the renewable energy revolution. We must strive to make Nigeria a global circular economy leader. The business opportunities are immense. The circular economy is the new paradigm for business which aims to achieve economic growth through new sustainable business models. According to research from Accenture, the circular economy could generate $4.5tn worth of additional economic output by 2030.

What should be our focus? Nigeria’s circular economy road map must describe concrete actions that can accelerate the transfer to a competitive circular economy in Nigeria. It should highlight best practices and pilots that can be easily replicated and provide added value on a national scale. Our Working Group experts must realize that we need a plan that will turn the circular economy into a driver of growth, investment and export for Nigeria. It should also be a catalyst for environmental remediation and sustainable development. It should focus on core areas – transportation and logistics, forestry and agriculture, technology and innovation, consumption and food system, etc. – while also accentuating the linkages for collaborations and joint actions.

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