The Financial Express

Time to act on cities’ liveability, sustainability: The circular economy the vehicle

| Updated: October 25, 2021 13:37:07

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The environmental, social, and economic impact of climate change is unprecedented, and no individual, country, and regions worldwide are immune to its detrimental effects. This climate change fundamentally challenges our consumption, production, lifestyle and governments’ actions and regulations. Cities are the places in which most sustainability and unsustainability factors find their origins. Cities’ current liveability can undermine sustainability and cause climate change. In tandem, cities' liveability can also be favourable to sustainability and climate change mitigation. Accordingly, cities' sustainability is of utmost necessity to address global climate change in which a circular economy can help.  The circular economy is a growing phenomenon in sustainability efforts, albeit unless current liveability is tied with sustainability, it would be challenging to implement this circularity principle. Thus, the application of circular economy should focus on both the present liveability and future sustainability rather than standalone attention on sustainability. 

Liveability and sustainability are two interlinked themes. Liveability is a local and immediate concept, and the idea of sustainability is long-term and global. Despite scale differences, there are both compatibility and antagonism in their relationships. Various planning and policy can help achieve both goals. For example, cycling can maintain good health (livability goal) and concurrently reduce carbon emission (sustainability goal). However, it is not always the case. Sustainability activities relating to de-carbonation from economic growth might not improve liveability and even decrease livability if the de-carbonation policy stops economic growth and increases living costs. Especially for the low-income countries, decarbonisation policy might increase poverty as it initially requires high investment for sophisticated technology and skill that they cannot afford. Thus, a circular economy must appreciate local and current needs while pursuing sustainability goals.  

Climate change is a threat to both urban liveability and sustainability. In its primary sense, urban liveability refers to residents' quality of life and wellbeing. Cities’ liveability to climate change effects is high because of the agglomeration of wealth and economic activities, physical infrastructure, utility networks, and populations, including infectious disease outbreaks. Climate change can also potentially affect environmental sustainability from the degradation and loss of urban ecosystems and biodiversity. On the other hand, for liveability, according to UN-Habitat, cities generate 70 per cent of global carbon emissions and consume two-thirds of the world’s energy, which is a big concern for climate change and environmental sustainability. Paradoxically, cities, as the centre place of wealth, knowledge and innovations, have the high sustainability potential to mitigate greenhouse gas emissions and address climate change. Therefore, climate change, liveability and sustainability are intertwined in which how the circular economy can contribute to achieving sustainable liveability and halting climate change requires attention.

The circular economy has now become a priority both in research and practice. It can positively affect everything from the natural environment and economic growth to our health and wellbeing. Achieving sustainability benefits and mitigating climate change need shifting from the current linear economic growth model ‘take-make-dispose’ to a closed-loop model ‘circular economy’. The traditional linear economy model overconsumes environmental resources and discharges waste and emissions to the environment, contributing to climate change. Conversely, the closed-loop economy can save these resources and the environment by reusing, repairing, recycling, repurposing, and designing products that can be recyclable and environmentally sound. Hence, to prevent adverse environmental impacts caused by the linear model and to sustain the current and future liveability¾intergenerational sustainable liveability¾ circular economy policy can make a change. This movement from the linear to a circular economy model demands fundamental adjustment to the current liveability practices from product design and development to supply and consumptions, including waste management. Producers, consumers, and regulators need to conceive the circular economy principle and turn it into their behaviour and actions for current liveability and future sustainability.

The circular economy principle requires avoiding and reducing environmental resource consumptions, reusing, repairing and recycling goods, rethinking before throwing out any goods and living with less. Consumers' positive attitudes and behaviours on accepting the circular economy are crucial for this transformation. Positive perceptions and attitudes towards the circular economy might depend on consumers’ awareness and knowledge regarding the circular economy and understanding and experiences with the traditional economy’s harmful environmental effects. So, consumers' attention and education on the circular economy and avoiding the linear one is essential. In parallel, consumers must have the options available to find environmentally friendly products and user-friendly services within affordability. Because products and services might be environmentally sustainable, they will not attract consumers unless these can enhance the current liveability. If the products and services become environmentally sustainable and at the same time can improve better liveable conditions, then this will represent the concept of liveable sustainability. Therefore, the circular economy must appreciate consumers at its core to make a successful transition.      

Producers or manufacturers can play a pivotal role to develop and foster persuasive apparitions of a new world that allows sustainable liveability by maintaining and nourishing natural resources while acknowledging economies to grow. In this regard, a circular economy principle can help them follow green business practices to promote liveability and environmental sustainability to fight against climate change. Producers or manufacturers can potentially inject a new circular urban consumerism through better design of products and services coupled with fashions, styles and comfortability. They have to create consumers' demands, meet those demands and ensure consumers’ choices to embrace the new circular consumerism. Simultaneously, marketers need to provide the steady production and supply of circular economy-based products and services within the affordability of consumers at all economic classes.

Regulators such as government and concerned authorities can facilitate a circular economy through developing and implementing new policies, regulations and strategies. For example, by setting legislative and regulatory provisions, the government can ban harmful products for the environment or enforce businesses to operate for complying circular economy principle. Concurrently, the government can provide facilities and monetary incentives to the companies for innovation and investment to be motivated to cultivate the circular economy principle.  Similarly, the government can introduce awareness-raising, motivational, and educative programmes about the circular economy’s necessity for consumers. For a liveable and sustainable urban condition, governments must mainstream circular economy principles in all sectors and governing levels to align plans, policies, and programs. In doing so, governments as regulators can create an enabling urban environment for a circular economy to emerge and flourish.

The circular economy as a strategy to achieve sustainability can significantly prevent environmental degradation from the traditional linear economy. The circular economy is one promising sustainability approach to halt further climate change and its negative impacts. Instead, a circular economy to be thriving should be built on a liveable sustainability concept to benefit the current liveability and future sustainability equally. Now, it is up to consumers, manufacturers, and governments’ combined efforts to conceive and dive deep into the circular economy to bring an urban liveable and sustainable condition together. 

Tareq Zahirul Haque is a PhD candidate, Centre for Urban Research, School of Global Urban and Social Studies, RMIT University, Melbourne, Australia.

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