No time to waste in the Baltic Sea

The EU says it wants to push ahead with a circular economy in the Baltic Sea region. But without concrete incentives and funding, the project may lack muscles, an EU conference in Gdansk heard.

"Our big dream of freedom, 30 years ago this month, was to end communism. We have to dream big again," Elzbieta Bienkowska, Member of the European Commission responsible for Internal Market, Industry, Entrepreneurship and SMEs, said. 

Speaking at the 10th Annual Forum of the EU Strategy for the Baltic Sea Region in Gdansk on Wednesday, Bienkowska spoke of the need to start implementing some of the ideas the circular economy.

"This is not just a policy choice. It is inevitable. By 2050 we need to have had fundamental economic reform. None of us can do it alone. The Baltic Sea Strategy is a good example of this cooperation," Bienkowska said.

The strategy brings together eight EU member states around the Baltic Sea, representing 80 million inhabitants, or nearly 16% of the EU population: Estonia, Denmark, Finland, Germany, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland and Sweden. The strategy also welcomes cooperation with non-EU countries from the region, Belarus, Iceland, Norway and Russia.

The European Council endorsed the EU Strategy for the Baltic Sea Region (EUSBSR) in 2009. EU member states signed off on the Circular Economy Package (CEP) in 2018, a suite of new laws designed to create a more resource efficient Europe.

Baltic in crisis

Heavy metals and chemicals poison Europe’s seas, with more than three-quarters of areas assessed in a recent report showing contamination. The worst affected was the Baltic, where 96% of the area covered in the research showed problematic levels of some harmful substances, according to the European Environment Agency.

The need for change was the key thread running through the first day of the conference. Adam Czerniak, an economist at Polityka Insight in Warsaw, for example, called for a new mindset.

"We talk a lot about growth in GDP and income. But this is unsustainable. There are limits to growth," Czerniak said.

He recalled what the famous economist Maynard Keynes once said that we are all dead in the long term, and added: "That could come sooner than later. We might in fact all be dead due to the degradation of the environment."

Circular economy business models fall into two main groups: those that propose reusing and extending service life through repair, remanufacture, upgrades and retrofits and those that turn old goods into as-new resources by recycling materials. "Ownership gives way to stewardship; consumers become users and creators," says Swiss architect Walter Stahel, a leading advocate of the idea.

"We have just started the transition from a linear to a circular economy. This is about sustainable, efficient use of resources," Marcin Ociepa, Poland's Deputy Minister of Entrepreneurship and Technology, said, stressing the need to focus on 4 areas: sustainable production and consumption, the bio economy and new business models.

This is a market that is predicted to generate 1% to 4% growth over the next 10 years. A report from McKinsey has suggested that adopting circular economy principles could generate a net economic benefit of €1.8 trillion ($2 trillion) for Europe by 2030.

The International Labor Organization projects the net creation of 18 million green jobs by 2030, including 4 million in manufacturing and 9 million in renewables and construction, all areas that will be boosted by a shift to circular thinking.

We are MEVO

The event allowed several companies in Poland to showcase their circular  credentials.

Mevo, for example, will be the largest electric power system in Europe. Launched in the Gdansk-Gdynia-Sopot Metropolitan Area in March, it will overtake Madrid (over 2,000 electric bikes) and Barcelona (1,000 bikes) by the end of the year, company officials said.

The project is cofinanced by the European Regional Development Fund under the Regional Operational Program of the Pomeranian Province for 2014-2020.

"Despite the fact that we do not have a metropolitan law, and we are still working on a joint ticket, today thanks to Mevo the metropolis becomes a reality," said Aleksandra Dulkiewicz, the mayor of Gdansk. 

Lems to the slaughter

Lotos Paliwa — one of the biggest firms in the Polish fuel market — unveiled plans for a network of Lotos Paliwa e-car filling stations in Poland.

The LEM project consists of a pilot implementation of a network of 2 electric vehicle quick charging stations with a customer service system on the existing station network of Lotos Paliwa, along the TEN-T corridors in Poland.

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