Towards a Centre of Excellence for Circular Economy in Singapore

In Energy & Environment by Astrid Seegers

White paper for an initiative on circular economy between the Netherlands and Singapore.
Josephine Nijstad & Susan van Boxtel

The world population is ever growing and demand for resources is increasing rapidly, while natural reserves stay limited. Prospects are that by 2050, 66% of the world’s population will live in cities, resulting in new challenges.

In this context and being located in crowded delta area, The Netherlands has the ambition to be fully circular by 2050.

Current cities are highly dependent upon the built and natural environments in their hinterlands, depending on networks of infrastructures and mobility for supplying materials, water and energy, and for disposal of waste. The larger and more complex they become, the greater the necessity of infrastructures and the greater their dependence on surrounding areas, and last but not least, the greater their vulnerability to change around them. With recent and coming perturbations of the weather as well as constantly increasing demand of energy, water and materials, these aspects of vulnerability, complexity and dependence are becoming essential for sustainability.

In the present linear economy, resources are extracted, made into products and end up as waste when we do not use them anymore. With our rate of consumption, various institutions have predicted that within 50 year oil, natural gas, and phosphorus mines will be exhausted; leading to severe resource scarcity, price inflation, and degraded ecosystems. This should be a wake-up call for immediate action by various actors in society to change the course of development and achieve concrete realization of sustainable development through new concepts based on circularity.

For Singapore the economical and environmental benefits of circularity are evident due to local absence of natural resources, space constrains and necessity for independent food and water production and waste management. In this regard Singapore and The Netherlands are facing similar challenges. A joined and common approach on developing and implementing a circular economy seems obvious.

Circular Economy; a growing interest
Circular Economy (CE) is receiving interest worldwide as a way to overcome the currently dominating linear and wasteful production and consumption model of our society. Most of the time, circular economy is studied and treated, only, as an approach to more appropriate waste management. However, circular economy is much more than optimized waste management only and should be used to understand and implement new models for sustainability, economic growth and wellbeing with low or no material, energy and environmental damages.

The implementation of circular economy is challenging because of the current linear mind-set and the structures in industry, economy and society. If implemented well, circular economy cannot only deliver key environmental benefits (e.g. reduced resource extraction, limited landfill, minimal pollution), but at the same time results in many economic advantages (independence from fossil natural resources, new business opportunities, job creation).

On the dawn of a paradigm shift
The Netherlands and Singapore are at the dawn of a paradigm shift. Instead of reinventing the wheel separately, many opportunities lay ahead to co-develop technologies, establish business cases and work together on policies and future proof strategies. There are many similarities between the countries, which makes Singapore and The Netherland natural partners. Both countries have limited natural resources, limited land space, are densely built, and are facing an ageing population which puts pressure on productivity an wellbeing.

Instead of seeing this as a constraint The Netherlands and Singapore can take it up as a challenge, to come up with innovative solutions. Smart infrastructures, excellent logistics and the constant development of new methods are paramount in the strategy of both countries to increase productivity and liveability. In addition, Singapore is the innovation hub of South-East Asia, developments here will trickle down to the rest of the ASEAN region.

Towards a Centre of Excellence for Circular Economy in Singapore
To elaborate further on circular economy challenges and implement pragmatic solutions, more research & development and cross sectorial collaboration is necessary. Both the qualities of both countries, as the challenges mentioned above, are an excellent foundation and incentive for the development of a Centre of Excellence for Circular Economy (CoECE).

The vision of CoECE is to stimulate the transition from a linear economy into a circulareconomy in Singapore (and The Netherlands) and cities worldwide.

The mission of the CoECE is to contribute to this transition by creating an environment (centre) for inter- and transdisciplinary fundamental and applied research and collaboration with policy makers and industry. Effective metropolitan solutions towards a Circular Economy in general go beyond technology, involving the entire socio-technical system, including social engagement, policy development and financial engineering.

The CoECE focuses on transformative power and disruptive effect of (new) technologies and design, resulting in circular economy solutions that have the potential to fundamentally transform or accelerate the circularity of cities as well as their ability to respond to change. It is a step-by-step process, wherein strategies and roadmaps will be developed to circumvent fatal lock-ins. Selected concepts will be further researched and tested in so-called ‘living labs’, in both Singapore and The Netherlands. Companies and Industries will be actively involved in translating proven concepts into market ready ‘results’, that will contribute to a circular economy in both Singapore and The Netherlands.

The CoECE steps up as organisation to facilitate cooperation and collaboration between governments, NGO’s, financial institutions, knowledge institutions, entrepreneurs, companies and industry, and will actively involve citizens, developing and implementing a circular economy.

More information on Circular Economy or interested in the full white-paper? Contact sin-ia[at]minbuza[dot]nl