Thailand, APEC’s host in 2022, has put forward the bio-circular-green economy as a cross-cutting, interconnected, and collaborative way of approaching environmental challenges.
Climate change is worsening. We can feel this in the recent onslaught of Typhoons Hinnamnor and Noru when they devastated communities and disrupted industries in Asia, or of Hurricane Ian when it flooded cities across America. We can sense this in the rising seawater, slowly encroaching on our coastal communities. In fact, about 167 million people in the APEC region are at risk of being displaced.
Indeed, climate change is a common concern, and rightly so, because many of our other challenges are connected to climate change—rising cost of living, creeping hunger, or deepening inequalities, among others. This tells us at least one thing: our solutions cannot be siloed. We need them to be cross-cutting, interconnected, and collaborative.
One way of developing such solutions is through the bio-circular-green (BCG) economy. It integrates policies across the bioeconomy, the circular economy, and the green economy and, by doing so, BCG economy solutions synergize the individual strengths of all three. To illustrate, economies produce waste as a consequence of economic activity, but the impact of these residuals on the environment can be mitigated or eliminated by using cleaner inputs (bioeconomy), reusing or recycling (circular economy), or incorporating ecosystem services into the production system itself (green economy).
Learn more about this by downloading this policy brief: “Charting New Pathways for APEC: A Sustainable Future Inspired by the Bio-Circular-Green (BCG) Economy.”
BCG economy solutions put an emphasis on improving the quality of policy design and implementation, which allows interventions to close existing policy loopholes. For example, gains from cleaner production can be offset when the circular economy is overwhelmed by increased consumption and production patterns, thereby causing a rebound effect. What the BCG economy can do here is to then incorporate behavioral interventions through education programs. Ultimately, the BCG economy becomes empowered to guide us in three important ways.
First, it helps us reframe how we approach development. We traditionally confine development mostly within continuous economic growth (GDP), but climate change necessitates us to reframe this idea. In this context, the BCG economy invites us to look at development as improving socioeconomic welfare that goes together with environmental sustainability.
Second, it encourages us to rethink how we use our resources. For instance, APEC generates about 364 million tons of food waste each year, and more than half of this comes from households. Clearly, transforming this food waste into something productive is important because waste is socially unacceptable when millions of people are hungry, and because it contributes to climate change. One way to transform waste is by converting it into renewable electricity using biogas or by upcycling it into innovative solar panels, examples that point out two important ideas for being more resourceful: circularity and innovation.
Third, it continuously reminds us that inclusive and active participation is important. The BCG economy naturally involves the active participation of stakeholders, even across borders. Within this context, the growing role of the private sector must be emphasized. In fact, the International Energy Agency highlighted that around 70 percent of the USD 3.9 trillion global clean energy investment required to achieve net zero emissions by 2050 need to come from private investment, underscoring the need for low-cost financing. But participation also includes the broader community (e.g., sectoral coalitions, civil society, and government). In other words, BCG economy solutions require a whole-of-society approach.
However, the success of BCG economy solutions depends on our support for its key drivers: the regulatory environment; technology and innovation; and stakeholder participation.
We can support these key drivers by addressing their challenges. For example, a common issue of the regulatory environment are policy silos, which are formed when communication and coordination among policymakers is weak. Applying BCG economy principles of inclusive and active participation would strengthen institutions by connecting policymaking and policy-enforcing entities, thereby promoting good governance. This could take the form of regular channels for coordination and idea-sharing across agencies, or sound regulatory instruments such as carbon budgeting and ex-ante environmental impact assessments, or even an economy-wide coordinating strategy, among others.
Another way to support the BCG economy’s key drivers is by leveraging international cooperation and collaboration. There is reasonable value in creating networks that connect multiple stakeholders across economies. APEC itself, as a regional forum, can incubate new ideas and advance discussions on BCG economy solutions. Much of this work will be done in 2022 under the host year of Thailand, which has made promoting the BCG economy its flagship priority.
At the end of the day, everyone plays a key role in resolving climate change. Policymakers, academia, businesses, civil society organizations, the youth, and other stakeholders can jointly contribute to ensuring that APEC can chart new pathways inspired by the BCG economy and secure a future where succeeding generations can live better.
Sylwyn Calizo Jr. is a researcher for the APEC Policy Support Unit and author of the policy brief, “Charting New Pathways for APEC: A Sustainable Future Inspired by the Bio-Circular-Green (BCG) Economy.”