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China and EU agree to put sustainability first

Beijing, China at the Imperial City north gate.

China and the European Union have signed a ‘historic’ memorandum of understanding on the circular economy at the 20th EU-China Summit, which was held in Beijing this Monday and Tuesday. Recycling was one of the core topics that was on the table.

Co-operation by the two major world economies is said to cover sustainable strategies, legislation, policies and research. More specifically, it will focus on management systems and policy tools including eco-design, eco-labelling, extended producer responsibility and green supply chains as well as financing of the circular economy.

The memorandum of understand was signed by European Commission Vice-President Jyrki Katainen and the Chairman of the Chinese National Development and Reform Commission He Lifeng. Both sides have pledged that they will support a ‘strategic exchange’ on best practices in key fields such as industrial parks, chemicals, plastics and waste.

China’s president Xi Jinping has previously announced plans to make available 252 billion yuan (US$ 37 billion) worth of funding from 2017 to 2020 to tackle waste problems in his country .

Paving the way

‘Closer alignment on the circular economy between China and the EU is a significant step, paving the way for a global shift towards an economic system that works for business, people and the environment,’ so states Ellen MacArthur, circular economy advocate and founder of the Ellen MacArthur Foundation. Indeed, she stresses that the partnership will help both parties ‘unlock new opportunities’.

A successful transition to a circular economy could add EUR 0.9 trillion to Europe’s GDP by 2030, MacArthur goes on to state. Citing her foundation’s 2015 report on sustainable practices, she adds that this would be accompanied by ‘better societal outcomes’ – including an increase of EUR 3000 a year in household income, a reduction in the cost of time lost to congestion by 16%, and a halving of carbon dioxide emissions compared with current levels.

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