The need for Cameroon and the entire Central African subregion to enhance a just transition from a linear to a circular economy (CE) cannot be overemphasized. Judging from the initiatives and data available online regarding efforts to promote this transition, it could be concluded that the Central African subregion is still seriously lagging in making that shift.
During the 23rd United Nations Conference of Parties (COP23), South Africa, Rwanda and Nigeria championed the creation of the African Circular Economy Alliance (ACEA), with the ambition to accelerate Africa’s transition to a Circular Economy at country, subregional and regional levelsthrough collaboration and linking of various circular initiatives (AfDB,2022).
According to a 2022 article by the African Development Bank, current membership to the Alliance includes South Africa, Nigeria, Ghana, Ivory Coast, and Rwanda, which demonstrates the absence of any Central African country. However, it is said that many African countries have expressed interest to join the Alliance. Hopefully, there will soon be a major representation from the Central African subregion, which can greatly help in creating more awareness about the importance of the CE transition for the subregion.
Expectations and principles of a CE
A CE is an economic system based on business models which strive to avoid the end-of-life concept by relying on some essential principles. If adopted, these principles can help the continent and the subregion in particular achieve their development goals.
- Designing out waste and pollution
- Keeping products and materials in use for longer periods
- Regenerating natural systems
Advantages of transitioning to a Circular Economy
The present take-make-dispose economic model encourages a lot of resource wastage, inefficiency, and degradation of natural systems. A report by Berg et al., 2018 reveals that only about 9% of the Global economy is circular, indicating the huge potential that lies within the CE to bring about environmental and socio-economic benefits.
It is expected to generate benefits both to companies and municipalities as a result of a reduction in the need for waste management, resource efficiency gains, and reductions in environmental externalities such as pollution.
Also, adopting CE models presents the potential through innovation to create economic and social benefits such as new job opportunities, improved welfare of low-income households as well as improved trade balances. These benefits could even be more significant in developing countries (e.g. Cameroon) which are experiencing very high levels of youth unemployment.
Transitioning into a circular economy is therefore of utmost importance and should be at the top of every country’s development agenda because, apart from minimizing the negative impacts associated with the linear economy, it represents a gateway to a more prosperous and sustainable planet.
This will be a systemic shift that will enhance long-term resilience and spur new business and economic opportunities alongside other environmental and societal benefits. Research strongly recommends moving away from the current way in which we exploit and utilize resources to avoid ecological collapse and significant disruption to production lines amidst other risks. It is worth noting that evidence from current and future trends all point towards the need for this crucial shift which in turn will create numerous opportunities.
Accelerating the Achievement of the SDGs
The CE has an enormous potential to help achieve sustainable development goals, especially goals: 6 on energy, 8 on economic growth, 11 on sustainable cities, 12 on sustainable production and consumption, 13 on climate action, 14 on oceans, and 15 on life on land.
It presents an opportunity for Cameroon and other countries in the subregion to pursue their development goals sustainably, avoiding the mistakes of previous and current development schemes which have caused palpable damage to the environment.
- Energy: transitioning into a circular economy implies finding new ways of powering our systems and production processes. Developing sustainable energy sources and enhancing the sustainable supply of raw materials while minimizing wastage. In a circular economy, renewable sources of energy are ideal for producing circular products and powering systems. Also of utmost importance is the design of renewable energy plants, their construction process, and their maintenance. Thus, the CE presents a new set of energy sources that are not prioritized in the current linear economic models.
- Economic growth: evidence from past research shows that the circular economy presents a 4.5 trillion-dollar economic opportunity by improving efficiency and reducing waste, encouraging innovation, and leading to the creation of ‘green’ job opportunities.
- Sustainable cities: the circular economy can help Cameroon, the subregion, and Africa as a whole build striving cities with numerous economic, social, and environmental benefits. Some of the benefits cities can derive by adopting sustainable models include increased resource efficiency, decongestion, reduced pollution and waste, and improved food systems among several others.
- Sustainable production and consumption: being able to manufacture products that have longer lifespans for example or can be reused and recycled are important considerations in a circular economy. Also, consumers will be more conscious about their choices, decisions, and habits which contribute to degrading the environment.
- Climate action: without any doubt, the circular economy is an important strategy that can help in combating climate change. It helps reduce pollution and wastage by reducing, reusing, and recycling. These are important practices that can greatly help not only in lowering material and resource consumption but also, in reducing the emission of greenhouse gases into the atmosphere.
- Oceans: oceans and aquatic ecosystems in general constitute an indispensable part of the planet. Cameroon being a coastal country will benefit a lot from the circular economy which will help reduce pollution especially land-based pollution that generally finds its way into the oceans and other waterbodies. Considering plastic waste alone, an estimated 8 million metric tons found their way into the ocean.
Moving towards a CE therefore will not only contribute to reducing the volume of plastic waste finding its way into our ocean and aquatic systems but also, help protect the very diverse marine life.
- Life on land: the potential for the CE to positively impact life on land is enormous. This includes enhancing conservation efforts of our very rich biodiverse landscapes. A recent article by Sitrabrings out the three main circular economy shifts which can help drive resilient growth and halt biodiversity loss. These include: (i) Resource-saving and regenerative production, (ii) space-efficient urban planning, and, (iii) reduced pressure from global consumption.
These and many other advantages of shifting towards a CE should galvanize Cameroon and other countries in the Central African Subregion to multiply their efforts in implementing and encouraging circular initiatives.
The Transition: Whose Responsibility?
Reaping the benefits of a transition from a linear to a circular economy requires the involvement of stakeholders from all sectors of activities. This is reflected in the diverse nature of participants awaited for the 2022 World Circular Economy Forum- Yaounde Studio which is slated for December 6-8, 2022. Participants range from local development authorities, city councils, ministries, companies, media organs, international organizations, and civil society organizations among others.
During this event, stakeholders such as businesses for example can figure out ways in which they can improve the design of their products to increase their lifespan and, facilitate reuse/recycling. They can serve as pacesetters for innovative circular business models thereby having a step forward in this increasingly competitive sustainability battlefield.
Policymakers also have a great role to play in promoting the transition by rethinking and introducing policies that favor the shift while introducing incentives and sanctions for compliance and non-compliance respectively.
International organizations can help accelerate the transition by increasing the financial resources allocated for circular initiatives and encouraging their member states to do the same.
The media has a way of shaping minds and pushing an agenda forward, thus can play an important role in enhancing the circular economy transition.
Similarly, civil society organizations also can pressurize other stakeholders such as local authorities, policymakers, and businesses while providing a powerful task force necessary to implement and carry out practical actions on the ground. These few examples, therefore, demonstrate the crucial role that everyone can play in enhancing the circular economy transition to take advantage of the numerous benefits it comes with.