What role does Circular Economy play in the European Green Deal?
The Commission’s Circular Economy Action Plan is one of the flagship initiatives of the European Green Deal. Through this Action Plan we want to lead Europe towards a more resource efficient, clean and climate neutral economy. The circular economy is a new economic model for the EU. It proposes a change in the way we produce and consume to become more resilient, more innovative and more resource efficient – and partly more autonomous.
It is also a great opportunity for companies who will be more competitive by being more circular. On the one hand, because a more circular economy will help Europe to decouple economic growth from resource consumption. On the other, because the circular economy offers a key contribution to achieve a climate neutral Europe. The 2019 Ellen MacArthur Foundation/Material Economics Report tells us that greenhouse gas emissions are not falling quickly enough to achieve climate targets and switching to renewable energy can only cut them by 55% of what is needed to reach the 1.5 degrees target. The remaining 45% of emissions must come from how we make and use products, and how we produce food.
Why is it important to have the defence sector also included in the EU’s Circular Economy?
The European defence industry generates a total turnover of €100 billion per year and 1.4 million highly skilled people are directly or indirectly employed in the sector in Europe. Like any sector, there are still untapped opportunities to ensure a reduced environmental impact. The circular economy presents a clear business case for the defence sector to be more sustainable while keeping up the competitiveness of the defence industry.
To integrate circular economy models into the defence sector successfully means that the models must not only address resource consumption but also the priorities of the armed forces: namely capability, performance, security of material supply, efficiency and research and technology. Innovation and new business models brought by increased resource efficiency, development of new materials, promotion of secondary raw materials and more sustainable public procurement will in turn not only preserve the environment but also ensure security of supplies, create new jobs, reduce costs for SMEs and larger companies and make the most of public spending.
Can you already anticipate what impact the EU’s Circular Economy policy might have on defence capabilities, procurement and industry?
The benefits for defence capabilities, procurement and industry lie in promoting the circular economy through the use of Green Public Procurement criteria, for instance, to foster circularity in uniforms and clothing, or supporting remanufacturing, reparability or reverse logistics. Moreover, a large part of the defence sector is composed of SMEs – which would particularly benefit from net-savings. Setting up collaborations with the private sector can also establish a productive discussion and exchange of knowledge around the requirements, opportunities, limitations and barriers to the introduction of the circular economy in defence.
For example, in the Netherlands, the Dutch Ministry of Defence, uses circular principles to reduce waste and extend the service life of uniforms, helmets, and other personnel equipment for the navy, army, air force and military police. In Portugal, some pilot programmes have been set to integrate recovery and reuse of materials into the future maintenance of jets without affecting military efficiency and operational capacities. These and other actions throughout the product lifecycle and the value chain can reduce the environmental externalities of Defence, while ensuring efficient collaboration and cooperation within the community, which is a good way to support inclusive change. I understand that these efforts do not start from scratch, as the European Defence Agency (EDA) has already started exploring the topic with reports and individual projects aiming at improving the knowledge base, and also to measure impacts.
How can the Commission help the defence sector move towards Circular Economy? Is there EU funding available for this purpose?
The circular economy is one of the building blocks of the European Green Deal, Europe’s strategy for sustainable growth. Funds are available to support all stages of development of an innovation contributing to the circular economy. For the research phase in the development of new technologies through Horizon Europe, looking for example at research on electronic application for smart equipment. For the related testing through LIFE, which covers at the same time circular economy, natural resources, climate mitigation and adaptation.
For the implementation through the structural funds, at regional and local level for specific military sites or at national and transnational level for a large-scale application. It is important to keep an eye also on the adoption and implementation of the European Defence Fund. The potential long-term gains in technological advancement, capability, performance, security of supply and efficiency in the defence sector are undeniable.
An EDA project dedicated to circular economy could be a good opportunity to reap the benefits of a more circular economy in the defence industry. We are working together to make this happen.