by Kari Grenade, PhD, Regional Economist and Macroeconomic Advisor
In the context of Covid-19 and its aftermath, the Caribbean has to envisage a future that is, in many respects, fundamentally different from its past. It must, of necessity, do things differently and better to get different and better development results.
Indeed, a clarion call is being made by the Caribbean’s development community to “build forward better”. This call rightly recognises the imperative for systemic change on several fronts to ensure that the post-pandemic development paradigm is based on a solid foundation that is anchored in sustainability, resilience, inclusion, equality, and prosperity.
On the economic front, in particular, building forward better requires a new values-based, nature-positive economic model. One that inter alia; prioritises people over profits, favours fair competition over the consolidation of corporate power, promotes income and gender equalities, supports empowerment and prosperity of workers and people in general, and values and protects all assets, be they natural (environmental), social, cultural, heritage and others.
Circular principles and practices will have to be distinct features of the new values-based, nature-positive economic model. Indeed, a paradigm shift towards a Circular Economy is required. A Circular Economy “is one in which products and materials are recycled, repaired and reused rather than thrown away, and in which waste from one industrial process becomes a valued input into another” (Chatham House, 2019).
Essentially, reuse, reduce, and recycle are at the core of a Circular Economy, in contrast to the current linear extractive model of produce, consume and dispose, which is unsustainable. As such, a Circular Economy offers an alternative economic strategy for industrial development and job creation that is more durable.
A Circular Economy could deliver benefits such as: reducing stress on the environment; improving the constancy and security of the supply of raw materials; boosting economic diversification and competitiveness; increasing innovation and value-creation; providing new, decent, sustainable jobs; and fostering skills development.
The Circular Economy concept is not an abstract or theoretical one, certain circular principles already occur on small scales; for example, the services provided by cellphone repair/reconstruction technicians, or those offered by shoe repair men and women, or those recycling discarded electrical equipment (E-Waste).
As the region “builds forward better”, a comprehensive Circular Economy Strategy and Action Plan that is relevant for the Caribbean is needed; one that that will see the scaling-up of similar type activities as cited above as well as new circular business models and innovations in all productive sectors, especially Agricultural, Tourism, Manufacturing and Construction.
In the Agriculture sector, for example, circular approaches will be needed to promote resilient, climate-smart agriculture to better support food and nutrition security. For the Tourism sector, it will mean reorienting the entire tourism ecosystem to embed sustainability; from the conceptualisation and design of the physical properties to how marketing is done. Hotels and other tourists’ accommodations, sites and attractions will have to be built with resilient and sustainable features to improve the quality of the natural environment in which they are located and reduce the consumption of resources such as energy and water. Tourism will have to be marketed as a sustainable, values-based, nature-positive, life experience, not as a mere economic activity. The focus of tourism marketing will have to be shifted from consumption and depletion to value creation and optimisation. In the Manufacturing and Construction sectors, circular practices will mean reducing the use of materials and energy in production and recovering end products through reuse and recycling. And in so doing, reduce economic and environmental costs.
Reorienting Caribbean economies towards a values-based, nature-positive circular model will require systems-thinking, multi-sectoral approaches as well as mindset shifts, awareness-raising and consciousness building to engender behavioural and public policy changes. The right enabling conditions such as legislation, financing, recycling technology and specialised skills would also be crucially important.
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