Photo: Dutch Ministry
23 Feb 2021 Blogpost Resource efficiency

Let’s go circular: The only approach to addressing global crises

Photo: Dutch Ministry

H.E. Stientje van Veldhoven-van der Meer, Minister for the Environment in the Netherlands"It is time that we shift our mentality on a circular economy: it isn’t a ‘nice to have;’ it is a ‘need to have’ "H.E. Stientje van Veldhoven-van der Meer

By H.E. Stientje van Veldhoven-van der Meer, Minister for the Environment in the Netherlands


Could a circular economy aid the COVID-19 recovery?

We are in a time of crisis: hospitals are overburdened with a sustained overflow of patients in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic, while many lose their jobs due to the associated economic downturn, and cope with isolation as a result of lockdown measures.

Over the coming months, we will hopefully see lockdowns and hospitalizations turn into vaccinations and recovery. Yet, even when we start to get the pandemic under control, we will be faced with the challenge of rebuilding livelihoods - against the backdrop of a climate, pollution, and biodiversity crisis that we may exacerbate, by making the wrong choices. We can take a positive approach: we have a unique opportunity to build back better and greener! To tackle climate change, to stop the current rate of loss of biodiversity, to preserve the enticing blue skies and healthy clean air; in short, to collectively build a more resilient and more sustainable society.

These collective challenges are closely interrelated and demand a coordinated international approach. In this regard, I would like to commend the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) for its continued strong vision and guidance on multilateral efforts to combat this global climate and environmental crises. UNEP has positioned itself as a key player in the realm of multilateral environmental action through its policy guidance, scientific support. And by bringing together a diversity of actors in order to collectively work to address common challenges, UNEP functions as an indispensable forum on the international stage.

The Netherlands greatly values UNEP’s role as a multilateral organization and its important contribution to the UN system. This is exemplified by the Netherlands’ long-term support for UNEP as one of its main financial donors. The Netherlands actively partners with UNEP to accelerate environmental action worldwide, working together on several programmes to advance sustainability. Among these programmes is the Partnership on Clean Fuels and Vehicles in West African region, and a waste management and circular economy programme in the Caribbean. I also very much value our ongoing collaboration with UNEP through the Platform for Accelerating the Circular Economy (PACE), where both UNEP and the Netherlands are part of the board.

In the light of the urgency of the crises we face, I wholeheartedly support UNEP’s decision to put sustainable production and consumption, and Sustainable Development Goal 12, at the heart of a systems approach in response to addressing the three crises, as articulated in the new Medium-Term Strategy. UNEP and the International Resource Panel found that around half of total greenhouse gas emissions, and more than 90% of global biodiversity loss and water stress, can be related to processes of resource extraction and processing. In this context, sustainable production and consumption and circular economy hold significant potential to mitigate each of the three crises.


This illustrates the significance of bringing circular strategies to the fore in both national and international strategies in order to address these interrelated crises in a coherent way. The essence of the approach is simple: alleviating environmental pressures at the source, and preventing pollution at the end of the product cycle while reducing emissions along the value chain.


It is time that we shift our mentality on a circular economy: it isn’t a ‘nice to have;’ it is a ‘need to have, especially if we want to combat the three looming crises. In fact, a circular economy is our secret weapon in ensuring that we meet our climate targets. However, it is time that we make sure this becomes our worst-kept secret: a circular economy should be our ‘mainstream’ instrument to achieve climate objectives, complementing policies focused on renewable energy and energy efficiency.


Next to the indispensability of a circular transition in order to meet our shared climate and environmental goals, a circular economy is key in achieving many of the other Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs):


  1.  A circular economy has the potential to significantly reduce the emissions of dangerous greenhouse gases related to the extraction, processing and use of materials, which mitigates climate change across the whole value chain (SDG13).
  2. Circular Economy stimulates economic activity and creates jobs. This links it closely to many of the SDGs, such as reducing poverty (SDG1), enhancing food and water security (SDGs 2 & 6), providing decent work and stimulating economic growth (SDG8), catalyzing innovation (SDG9), moving us towards sustainable communities (SDG11), protecting life below water and life on land (SDG 14 & 15) while being a central tenet of SCP (SDG12) and building partnerships (SDG 17).

This underlines the relevance of moving from a linear, unsustainable, inequitable economy to a circular, green economy.


With a view to emphasizing the importance of the transition to a circular economy in climate, environmental and socio-economic policies, the Netherlands and the Finnish Innovation Fund Sitra will organize the World Circular Economy Forum+Climate (WCEF+Climate) on 15 and 16 April 2021.


During this conference, we will work towards a circular economy by 2050, a necessity for climate neutrality. The Outcome Document of the conference, the WCEF+Climate Action Statement, will encompass concrete and ambitious commitments from actors in the public and private sectors, enhancing political commitment for the transition to a circular economy and its contribution to a green, equitable, and climate-neutral world.  This will help to embed the outcomes of the conference in future processes, and ensure that the potential of sustainable production and consumption as well as circular economy will be used to the fullest to mitigate climate change, protect biodiversity, and prevent pollution.


In this context, the Netherlands continues to support UNEP in its pursuit of environmental protection, and supports its message that sustainable production and consumption coupled with circular economy is the only way to address the three crises simultaneously. I would like to thank UNEP for its pivotal role in guiding global efforts towards sustainability in recent decades, and look forward to continuing our shared efforts on the road towards a sustainable world.


It’s time for a change of course.


It’s time to seriously take care of our planet and our environment.




Disclaimer: The views expressed in this Opinion Editorial are solely those of the author, and do not necessarily represent the views of the UN Environment Programme.


The Netherlands is a strong supporter of UNEP in policy, programme and funding. Three years in a row (2018-2020), the Netherlands has been the top contributor to the Environment Fund of UNEP.




The Environment Fund and doing your part. 


The Environment Fund is the core fund of the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), and critical to its work in science, policy and environmental law, which in turn helps drive positive impact for the environment. This is crucial work that benefits all countries.


The success of UNEP's work highly depends on the contributions made by Member States and other partners. To support the Environment Fund, each of our 193 Member States is encouraged to do their part, as represented by the ‘Voluntary Indicative Scale of Contributions’, established in 2002 by the Member States themselves. The scale considers each country individually and distributes responsibility collectively. Each Member State contribution matters – for people, planet and prosperity.