Recycling bottles

Circular Economy

Circular Economy is a systems solution framework that calls for a sustainable paradigm shift from a “take make waste” linear system to a circular system. Circular Economy can be achieved through long lasting design, maintenance, repair, reuse, remanufacturing, refurbishing, and recycling.

Global context

Fundamental changes need to be made to our economic models if we are to build forward better through and inclusive green recovery and accelerate progress on the SDGs. Alongside climate change, biodiversity loss, and pollution, we face the inextricably linked challenges of growing inequality and multidimensional poverty, economic stagnation and debt, conflict, political polarization, and fragility – all exacerbated by the impact of the pandemic. COVID-19 has led to the first decline in global human development in 30 years. Extreme poverty is rising for the first time in a generation, and we have seen one of the largest contractions of global GDP growth per capita in the past 100 years. It is no longer possible to have a separate growth and development agenda and a parallel climate-environment agenda. Nature and Climate concerns need to be at the heart of all economic planning and investment decisions.

This transformation towards more resilient, resource-efficient, Nature-positive, low-emission economies requires a decoupling of economic growth from the unsustainable use of our natural resources. This in turn requires a shift in government, private sector, and household behaviours. Subsidies and other public and market incentives need to steer us away from the unsustainable patterns of consumption and production. According to OECD, population and economic growth are on track to double global material consumption by 2060. Worldwide, resource extraction and processing cause 90% of biodiversity loss and approximately half of our climate change impacts according to the International Resource Panel.

Circular Economy and closely linked Green and Blue Economy approaches help to catalyze this shift while ensuring a just and inclusive transition that considers economy-wide trade-offs and prioritized investments for different social groups and sectors over time, particularly groups in marginalized and vulnerable contexts. In 2022, over 70 countries were already applying various Circular/ Green/ Blue Economy policies across the life cycle of their productive sectors including: resources extraction; food and commodity systems; energy production; buildings and construction; transport and tourism; oceans and fisheries; health; procurement; and chemicals and waste management. If scaled up this could lead to a 25% reduction in global resource use, with a 90% reduction in greenhouse gas emissions. Employment could grow by 0.1% by 2030 generating tens of millions of new jobs for women and men. Cutting food wastage would save US$1.3 trillion a year, enough to feed 2 billion hungry and malnourished people.

UNDP’S Service Lines

Inclusive Circular and Green/Blue economy approaches cover many potential policy and programming entry points for UNDP and partners. These include national and sectoral policy work and reforms. As noted above, much of this sectoral and cross-sectoral work may not always brand itself consistently with explicit “circular” or “green”/” blue” economy language. 

  • National Visions, Strategies, Medium-term Plans, Green Recovery and SDG Alignment: UNDP works with governments and other stakeholders to integrate Circular and Green/Blue Economy principles and priorities into national and sectoral planning and budgeting. This includes support to Green Recovery Plans on over twenty countries through initiatives like the Partnership for Action on Green Economy - PAGE.
  • Climate Change: UNDP manages a $2 billion climate change portfolio of mitigation and adaptation projects in over 130 countries to transition toward zero-carbon, resilient economies including through NDCs. Incorporating Circular Economy strategies in NDCs can increase the level of ambition of national climate actions through an economy-wide transition. 
  • Sustainable Energy Access: UNDP supports countries to expand access to clean, renewable energy including off-grid, small-scale, decentralized and community-based energy services for rural and urban communities and entrepreneurs for electricity and cooking and heating fuels. 
  • Sustainable Cities: UNDP helps integrate Circular and Green/Blue Economy priorities into urban planning with a focus on renewable energy and energy efficiency for buildings, appliances, waste, and transport systems, as well as well as sustainable agriculture and energy efficiency for irrigation.
  • Chemicals and waste management: UNDP manages a large global portfolio designed to help reduce POPs and mercury releases through the sound management of chemicals and hazardous waste in industry, health, energy, mining, agriculture, fisheries, e.g.: medical and municipal waste, e-waste, lead paint, battery recycling, ocean plastics, exposure to recycling communities, introduction of Volume Based Waste Fee systems, and wastewater treatment programmes. UNDP also implement a linked Plastics Offer.
  • Food and Agriculture Commodity Systems: UNDP works with governments through a global portfolio of programmes to bring together business, farmers, conservationists and other stakeholders through national platforms to ensure sustainable commodity production and growth. This work includes a focus on key commodities such as coffee, beef, cashmere, palm, soy and fisheries and is part of UNDP’s overall Offer on Food and Agriculture Commodities Strategy (FACS) and linked work of food subsidies.
  • Green Financing: UNDP helps to catalyze investment for management of natural resources by supporting planning, access, delivery, diversification, scaling-up and sequencing of international resources and combining them with public financing and/or private investment. This involves removing policy and regulatory barriers, expanding green markets, and establishing national financing frameworks. UNDP also supports green lending facilities and small enterprise bonds; environmental and social certification; and impact investment and social impact bonds.