EC: the Circular Economy Action Plan

In March, the European Commission published a comprehensive report on the implementation of the Circular Economy Action Plan, announcing that all 54 actions under the Circular Economy Action Plan launched in 2015 have now been delivered. 

This has accelerated the transition towards a circular economy in Europe. In 2016, sectors relevant to the circular economy:

  • employed more than four million workers, a 6% increase compared to 2012.
  • opened up new business opportunities,
  • gave rise to new business models
  • developed new markets, domestically and outside the EU
  • generated almost €147 billion in value added by repair, reuse or recycling
  • and accounted for around €17.5 billion worth of investments.

On this site in February there was a report about The Manchester Declaration by the UK community repair movement (follow the link to see a wide range of members). This called for the repair of products, especially electronics, to be made more accessible and affordable, while ensuring that product standards that make products easier to repair are adopted.

There are currently 1689 Repair Cafés in the world. One product successfully repaired at a Repair Café can prevent up to 24 kilos of CO2 being emitted, according to research by Steve Privett, who examined data of almost 3000 repairs carried out at 13 Repair Cafés in the UK.

These activities are in tune with the Circular Economy Action Plan formulated by The European Economic and Social Committee (EESC).

The EESC seeks to improve the Ecodesign Working Plan (2016-2019) in order to drive ‘wholesale’ change in behaviour through the supply chains of goods and services at a pace that would reflect the ambition of the Circular Economy Action Plan, introduced in December 2015.

The ecodesign of goods and services needs to go beyond just energy considerations – the component parts of a product should be easily recoverable for reuse and/or remanufacture and drive the creation of a strong secondary raw materials market. There must be a focus on the full lifecycle of products including:

  • their durability,
  • ease of maintenance
  • and repair,
  • potential for reuse,
  • upgradeability,
  • recyclability
  • and actual uptake after use in the form of secondary materials in products entering the market.

The EESC has reaffirmed its support for the use of Extended Producer Responsibility as a tool to promote the transition to circular economy business models. It focusses on the end-of-use treatment of consumer products, aiming to increase the amount of product recovery and minimize the environmental impact of waste materials.

An EC reflection paper finds that almost all elements of the Action Plan have been delivered but more steps will need to be taken to build a fully circular European economy. Europe is moving steadily towards a climate-neutral, competitive circular economy where pressure on resources and ecosystems is minimised.

 

 

 

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This time it must be different: ten years after the economic crisis – jobs in every constituency

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Global weather patterns have increased attention on the adverse effects of climate change and unease grows about the threats posed by automation.

American Democrats and Greens are taking on board the message delivered for years by Colin Hines, convener of the Green New Deal Group, more recently in the Guardian and repeatedly since then.

Implementation of the group’s Green New Deal infrastructure programme would mitigate the adverse effects of climate change, substantially reducing the domestic carbon emissions and automation-related unemployment.

However it will be important to build up public support for the massive systemic change advocated by many, including both Sir David Attenborough and Greta Thunberg. The often uncomfortable personal lifestyle changes needed must be seen as part of a diverse and popular programme addressing the social, economic and climate insecurity increasingly felt by the majority.

The changes would involve dramatically increasing the funding of:

  • employment in face to face jobs that address the worries of people of all ages, such as inadequate health-care, education and housing,
  • energy efficiency measures,
  • the increased use of renewables,
  • face-to-face caring in the public and private sector – difficult to automate or relocate abroad,
  • interconnected road and rail services in every community,
  • electric vehicles for private use
  • and an enormous nationwide green infrastructure programme ensuring the rapid decarbonisation of energy, transport, resource use and food production.

The changes must be couched in terms of being a massive local job generator and one that provides business and investment opportunities. Read more here.

America’s Green Party 

As the convenor pointed out in the Financial Times yesterday, the political advantage of this approach is that it would be seen by voters to be beneficial to every constituency and, as such, should appeal to all political parties. It will require a wide range of skills for work that will last decades, help to improve conditions and job opportunities for the “left behind” communities in the UK and ensure that the urgent demands of many for action on climate change can be more swiftly met.

 

 

 

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European Spring alliance will advocate a Green New Deal for Europe

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Yanis Varoufakis co-founder of DiEM25 (Democracy in Europe Movement) and former Greece finance minister, has advocated a Green New Deal for Europe.  Towards the end of an article (Dec.2018) he wrote:

This is what Democracy in Europe Movement 2025 – which I co-founded – and our European Spring alliance will be taking to voters in the European parliament elections next summer. See video here.

The great advantage of our Green New Deal is that we are taking a leaf out of US President Franklin Roosevelt’s original New Deal in the 1930s: our idea is to create €500bn every year in the green transition across Europe, without a euro in new taxes.

Here’s how it would work: the European Investment Bank (EIB) issues bonds of that value with the European Central Bank standing by, ready to purchase as many of them as necessary in the secondary markets. The EIB bonds will undoubtedly sell like hot cakes in a market desperate for a safe asset. Thus, the excess liquidity that keeps interest rates negative, crushing German pension funds, is soaked up and the Green New Deal is fully funded.

Once hope in a Europe of shared, green prosperity is restored, it will be possible to have the necessary debate on new pan-European taxes on C02, the rich, big tech and so on – as well as settling the democratic constitution Europe deserves.

Perhaps our Green New Deal may even create the climate for a second UK referendum, so that the people of Britain can choose to rejoin a better, fairer, greener, democratic EU.

Read the whole article here.

Postscript

On Monday, March 25, DiEM25 and European Spring gathered in Brussels to present the women and men from all corners of Europe who will take our common political programme to the ballot on May 25 – like Génération.s’ Benoît Hamon and LIVRE’s Rui Tavares among others – at the BOZAR theatre. This is where we officially launched our European Spring campaign – embodied in a New Deal for Europe, a set of ambitious economic proposals to save Europe from itself by transforming it.

 

 

 

 

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The Green New Deal infrastructure programme

Global weather patterns have increased attention on the adverse effects of climate change and unease grows about the imminence and widespread threats posed by automation.

In the Guardian, Colin Hines, convener of the Green New Deal Group, described the Green New Deal infrastructure programme which would mitigate such adverse effects. He pointed out that the UK could contribute to substantially reducing its domestic carbon emissions while addressing the serious threat of rapid and ubiquitous automation raised by Yvette Cooper. The report may be read here.

Jobs created in every constituency

Two major labour-intensive sources of local jobs were advocated: face-to-face caring in the public and private sector – frequently discussed – and infrastructural provision and improvements. Both are difficult to automate and can’t be relocated abroad

Infrastructural provision and improvements are crucial to tackling climate change, prioritising energy efficiency and the increased use of renewables in constructing and refurbishing every UK building.

In transport the emphasis would be on increased provision of interconnected road and rail services in every community, encouraging electric vehicles for private use.

Hines added that apart from the advantages of improving social conditions and protecting the environment, this programme will have two further very politically attractive effects:

“The majority of this work will take place in every constituency and will require a wide range of skills for work that will last decades. It would help to improve conditions and job opportunities for the “left behind” communities in the UK.”

 

 

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The right to repair

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In a recent New Economics Foundation newsletter, Duncan McCann focussed on what has long been known as planned obsolescence, citing the example of Apple, who, like many manufacturers, makes it expensive or impossible to repair its products. This means that their products have to be thrown away, creating huge amounts of electronic waste.  

The tide is turning

Meta, the news channel of the European Environmental Bureau (EEB), reports that Apple has been fined €8 million by an Australian court for refusing to fix iPhones and iPads that had been previously repaired by a third party.

The Manchester Declaration by the UK community repair movement (follow the link to see a wide range of members) calls for the repair of products, especially electronics, to be made more accessible and affordable, while ensuring that product standards that make products easier to repair are adopted.

The Restarters lobby the European Parliament

Last year Meta reported that the European Parliament voted in favour of measures to make consumer goods, including smartphones, longer lasting and more easily repairable by design. NEF adds that in December 2018, EU member states voted to set new manufacturing standards for fridges and freezers, with additional product groups being considered over the coming months.

Design decisions for products limit or totally preclude repair

Duncan McCann explains that manufacturers often make design decisions for products that limit or totally preclude repair: “Product parts are very often glued or welded together, which makes them hard to replace. Manufacturers use customised screws and fittings: when Apple released the iPhone 4, the phone was put together using a new screw for which you could not buy a screwdriver. This forced users to go through Apple to get the product repaired. Apple also used the repair process to retroactively fit these screws to all iPhones”.

From design and a lack of spare parts, to software and terms and conditions, manufacturers are using a whole range of tactics to block consumers’ ability to repair products.

In order to enable consumers to repair their phones, fridges, and other goods, manufacturers have to provide replacement parts, diagnostic tools and service manuals to all who need it — from individuals to independent repair shops. They also need to recognise the rights of consumers to open everything we own, modify and repair our stuff, and unlock the software in our products.

Software upgrades can be incompatible with older models and force people to buy new products when they expire.

Apple took this further in April 2018 when they disabled all iPhone 8s that had had their screens repaired by independent repair shops. Manufacturers can also control access to the diagnostic software needed to troubleshoot problems, limiting who can repair them.

The final tactic is to use warranties and terms and conditions to advise against or forbid certain actions, like opening the device to fix it.

Sony has various stickers that must be broken to open a Playstation 4 that specifically state that tampering with them invalidates the warranty. Although legally dubious, these signposts are an effective deterrent for people trying to repair their gadgets, and force them through the official repair chain.

Duncan McCann (left) asserts that manufacturers see repair from unauthorised vendors as a direct threat to their revenue, in terms of new product sales and profits from in-house repairs and ends:

“We urgently need legislation that forces manufacturers to design products to improve their repairability, make spare parts available to everyone at reasonable costs, update software responsibly, and not abuse terms and conditions”.

 

 

 

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Plan for the new economy: commission on economic justice

September’s report by the commission on economic justice set up by the Institute for Public Policy Research advocated a number of radical ideas though – as the FT Editorial Board noted – its members were drawn from a wide range of backgrounds. They included Helena Morrissey, head of personal investing at Legal & General Investment Management; Dominic Barton, former managing partner of McKinsey & Co, Justin Welby, Archbishop of Canterbury, and Frances O’Grady, general secretary of the Trades Union Congress.

The radical ideas include:

  • pushing for 50% of the UK workforce to be unionised (a figure last reached in 1979), raising taxation of land;
  • raising capital gains tax;
  • putting workers on boards;
  • changing the legal status of companies to promote long termism
  • and setting up some industrial quangos.

It has been welcomed by John McDonnell, Labour’s shadow chancellor, who compared it to the 1942 Beveridge report that led to the UK’s welfare state.o

A more detailed report may be seen in the Guardian.

 

 

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Prem Sikka: “If austerity is over, the Chancellor must present a plan to invest in our economy”

Chancellor Philip Hammond’s number one focus should be investing in a sustainable economy, argues Prem Sikka, Professor of Accounting at University of Sheffield and Emeritus Professor of Accounting at University of Essex. 

In a recent article, Sikka (below right) observes that in the face of Brexit uncertainties, many businesses are withholding investment. But to meet the challenge, the government will need to abandon almost of its headline polices.

He points out that historically, the private sector has shown little appetite for long-term risks and the state invested heavily in biotechnology, telecommunications, postal, information technology, utilities, shipping, railways, airlines and many other long-term industries.

For the last 40 years, the government has privatised most of these industries and relied on a variety of tax incentives to persuade the private sector to invest.

Sikka’s verdict: the results have not been encouraging – investment slumped

The lowest ratio of investment to GDP in EU countries was recorded by Greece (12.6%), followed by Portugal (16.2%) and the United Kingdom (16.9%). And since the 1990s, the UK R&D expenditure has fluctuated between 1.53% and 1.67% of GDP, well below the EU average.

Successive governments made a deliberate decision to prioritise the service sector though it is the manufacturing sector which generally generates more skilled, semi-skilled and higher paid jobs. Its multiplier effect – the ability to generate additional jobs – is also greater as the items need to delivered, maintained and repaired. Yet the manufacturing sector has continued to shrink and now accounts for around 9% of the UK GDP compared to 30% in China, 20% in Germany, 12% in the US and 19% in Japan.

Without adequate purchasing power, people cannot afford to buy goods and services and that itself discourages investment.

Investment, innovation and R&D need to be accompanied by sustainable demand. Since 2010, the government has been wedded to building a low-wage economy. Workers’ share of the GDP for the second quarter of 2018 stands at 49.3% of GDP, compared to 65.1% in 1976.

At the same time, the increases in gas, water, electricity, rents and travel costs have further eroded people’s purchasing power. The inevitable consequence of squeeze on household budgets has been the closure of shops such as Carpetright, Jamie’s Italian, Maplin, Marks & Spencer, Mothercare, Poundworld, Prezzo and Toys R Us, just to mention a few.

The Chancellor needs to find ways of boosting people’s purchasing power

This could be done by curbs on profiteering by utilities and train companies, raising the minimum wage and state pension, ending gender discrimination and pay rise for women and public sector workers, abolition of university fees, and ensuring that the tax-free personal allowances for income tax purposes match the minimum wage.

Sikka emphasises the urgent need for state investment in providing social infrastructure, transport, house-building, green industries, artificial intelligence, space and other industries and Hines proposes a Green New Deal infrastructure programme, offering jobs in every constituency.

In the Guardian, Colin Hines, convener of the Green New Deal Group, recently wrote about a GND infrastructure programme which would contribute substantially towards reducing Britain’s domestic carbon emissions and also address the serious threat of rapid and ubiquitous automation raised by Yvette Cooper.

Two major labour-intensive sources of local jobs were advocated: face-to-face caring in the public and private sector and infrastructural provision and improvements. Both are difficult to automate and can’t be relocated abroad.

Infrastructural provision and improvements are crucial to tackling climate change, prioritising energy efficiency and the increased use of renewables in constructing and refurbishing every UK building. In transport the emphasis would be on increased provision of interconnected road and rail services in every community, encouraging electric vehicles for private use. Hines added that the advantages of this programme include:

  • improving social conditions,
  • protecting the environment,
  • offering opportunities in every constituency,
  • requiring a wide range of skills for work that will last decades
  • and helping to improve conditions and job opportunities for “left behind” communities in the UK.

Sikka ends: “Neoliberals will no doubt respond with the usual comment ‘we can’t afford it.’ But can we afford stagnation, economic decline, social conflict and instability? The answer is a clear no. A government which can bailout banks with billions oquantitative easing, appease corporations and wealthy elites with tax cuts and guarantees profits through the Private Finance Initiative (PFI) and subsidies to film companies, can also find resources for economic welfare. If it chooses not to, it should make way for someone who can”.

 

 

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