The role of the European Union in sustainable development – utilization of resources and circular economy – workshop event
Before the upcoming European Parliament elections, the Office of the Commissioner for Fundamental Rights, the Association towards Sustainability, and the Association of Hungarian Nature Defenders, i.e. the Hungarian branch of Friends of the Earth launched a series of events related to the future tasks of the European Union. It was in this context that the workshop discussion entitled “The role of the European Union in sustainable development – utilization of resources and circular economy” was held at the Ombudsman’s Office on March 19, 2019. The talks and the exchange of ideas were triggered by the worrisome tendency in the global economy, i.e. that the global utilization of materials (including the production of raw materials) reached ninety billion tons (12 tons per capita) in 2017, which is three times the value that can be deemed sustainable, and which amount, given the current tendencies, will probably double by 2060. The concept of circular economy encompasses the entire life cycle of the products, as opposed to the earlier linear approach. Natural resources are finite, this is why it is imperative to find such a way of their utilization which is both environmentally and economically sustainable. In the case of products and raw materials used in the circular economy, the goal is to preserve the value of these for as long a period as possible; to reduce the level of waste production and resource utilization to the minimum, to ensure that the resources of those products that have reached the end of their life cycles remain in the economy, creating further values through recycling.
In his welcome speech, Ombudsman for Future Generations Dr. Gyula Bándi pointed out that commitment to sustainable development was primarily a question of values, i.e. ranking ecological values higher than financial and economic competitiveness.
Secretary of the National Council for Sustainable Development Gábor Bartus warned: besides the utilization of materials, natural capital is most of all jeopardized by the occupation of areas, and industrialized agriculture and the building of infrastructure are the strongest impact factors in both areas. The production of construction materials has grown dramatically in the past few decades. The elements of natural capital should be considered as a unified whole, as sustainability will not be reached sooner if for example, by preferring electric vehicles, we replace our dependence on hydro carbons with dependence on lithium. While the overconsumption of natural capital already jeopardizes the survival of humankind, economics cannot understand this problem, as this field of science evolved in an era when the resources still seemed to be inexhaustible. Ecological criteria would require the enforcement of the natural value of the use of materials, i.e. a drastic increase in the rate of relevant taxation, however, these days, the highest tax burdens are imposed on human labor. This is why it is worth economizing on labor force but not on materials or energy. In the best interests of the future generations, the absolute value of the use of materials should be reduced too, however, decreasing consumption is a goal that cannot be achieved politically. This is why the material turnover should be moderated without sacrificing the standards of living. This may be achieved by increasing the life of our assets, recycling, as well as increasing the intensity of their use. By transferring from a product-based to a service-based economy, the manufacturer will also be more interested in the better utilization and longer life cycles of the assets.
Ruth Vilches Torrejón from the Bolivian Centro de Ecología y Pueblos Andinos illustrated the environmental and social problems caused by mining through alarming examples taken from the indigenous communities of her country. The overuse of waters and the contamination of the soil make traditional fishing and agriculture impossible, the consequences of which are forced migration and the dissolution of communities.
The Program Manager of the Association towards Sustainability Fidrich Róbert criticized the manufacturer’s strategy of the planned obsolescence of electronic devices (intentional errors, vulnerable but economically irreparable devices, purchases generated by fashion), which results in the senseless exploitation of nature all over the world. In the Third World countries, all this simultaneously leads to the nature issues caused by mining, as well as the health and social problems generated by the waste exports of the rich states.
After the talks, there were thematic debates in several groups on the circular economy, the effects of mining and planned obsolescence. The professional proposals defined at the meeting will be sent, in an edited form, to the Hungarian candidates to the European Parliament by the Hungarian Nature Defenders, i.e. the Hungarian branch of Friends of the Earth.