Global stocktake of national circular economy roadmaps

Chatham House, with support from UNIDO, has conducted the first global stocktake of national circular economy roadmaps. It evaluates 75 national roadmaps and 2882 individual policy actions across 17 sectors and 20 policy themes.

Jack Barrie and Patrick Schröder, 13 May 2024

Today marks a significant milestone in the global pursuit of sustainability as Chatham House, in collaboration with UNIDO, unveils the world's first comprehensive stocktake of national circular economy initiatives. This groundbreaking study offers unparalleled insights into 75 national circular economy 'calls to action', 'roadmaps', and 'operational strategies' identifying and thematically codifying 2882 individual actions.

Download the report here.

The proliferation of these initiatives underscores a growing global momentum towards transitioning to a circular economy. With a shared aspiration to foster sustainable practices, nations across the globe have embarked on a journey to redefine economic paradigms and embrace circularity. Yet, despite their rapid proliferation, questions persist regarding the content, design, governance structures, and efficacy of these initiatives in delivering a just and inclusive circular transition. This global stocktake endeavors to shed light on these queries, offering a preliminary examination and foundational reference for subsequent global evaluations.

The insights derived from this stocktake hold relevance for diverse stakeholders, including policymakers, public officials, non-governmental organizations, community groups, and industry actors. Understanding the future trajectory of global circular economy policies is crucial for fostering sustainable practices and ensuring a just and inclusive transition. Chatham House has also made freely available an interactive global map of all national roadmaps published.

Roadmap classification

This stocktake studies three types of publications: ‘calls to action’, ‘roadmaps’ and ‘operational strategies’. In introducing this classification system, the authors have attempted to bring clarity to an area of ambiguity, in which the terms, ‘roadmap’, ‘action plan’, ‘operational strategy’ tend to be used interchangeably with no clear distinction or definitions provided.

This classification should not be considered hierarchical. For example, an operational strategy may outline objective and timebound actions with dedicated resources, however the actions may not be sufficiently ambitious or coordinated to achieve systemic transformation – rather only result in incremental short-term change. Whereas an ambitious and well-resourced roadmap could aim for more ambitious transformation over a longer time horizon. It could seek to establish strong political support around a collective vision while providing the necessary flexibility, scope and time to enact ambitious measures.

Timeline and geographical distribution circular economy calls to action, roadmaps and operational strategies

The geographical spread of national circular economy calls to action, roadmaps and operational strategies is increasing rapidly however the EU still dominates. In 2018, 70% of all calls to action, roadmaps and operational strategies were produced by European countries. In 2024, the proportion of EU roadmaps and strategies remained the same at 70% of the total. Despite most roadmaps and strategies arising in Europe, a rapid uptake can be observed across Latin America, Africa, and Asia (a total of 17 between 2018 and 2024) and this is expected to continue growing as the authors have identified 10+ roadmaps that have been announced to be produced as of time of publication.

Japan was the first country to develop a national call to action and roadmap when they launched a national Circular Economy Vision in 1999 followed by a Fundamental Plan for Establishing a Sound Material-Cycle Society in 2003, 2008 and 2013.

How are they governed?

The figure below presents an overview of the host organizations in the publications assessed. Ministries play a crucial role, as roadmap or strategy governance tends to sit within the remit of one or two government ministries (primarily Ministries of Environment). This might result in a lack of a systematic and integrated government approach. To address this challenge, inter-ministerial commissions or advisory committees were established for a few of the roadmaps. Majority of the government ministries assigned to lead roadmap development were environmental ministries (total of 35).

CountryGovernance approach
ColombiaA National Competitiveness and Innovation Commission will meet periodically to review the progress of the implementation of the National Circular Economy Strategy and emphasize the priorities of its implementation. Regional working groups will also be established
Greece, Italy, Republic of Korea, PortugalPlan for the creation of an Inter-ministerial Commission - a decision-making structure at the political level charged with aligning the theme of the circular economy with the work underway and to avoid duplication of effort
FinlandA steering group for the Circular Economy Programme will report to the Ministerial Working Group on Climate and Energy Policy and be responsible for and coordinate the implementation of the programme
IndiaIndia is establishing a National Circular Economy Authority (NCEA). The NCEA would be responsible for developing and implementing the national Circular Economy strategy and coordinate the activities of different ministries and agencies, and provide support to businesses and other stakeholders
NetherlandsMandate for the Netherlands Environmental Assessment (PBL) to produce annual Integrated Circular Economy Report (ICER) to monitor progress and have produced sector specific actions plans

What types of circular economy policies are governments committed to?

The table below outlines the range of different circular economy policy commitments (n= 2882). A total of 20 different categories of public policy were identified. Brokering was the most common category of actions, followed by fiscal instruments, and supporting research and innovation activities. Looking at the single policy measures, extended producer responsibility (EPR) was one of the most prominent policy measures identified. However, little-to-no consideration was given to the need for international collaboration on EPR schemes.

The global stocktake report subsequently breaks down each policy theme into the individual policy actions. As an example below, the types of specific policy action are outlined below for the second most popular policy theme category - fiscal instruments.

The global stocktake also identified a shortlist of policy actions for each policy theme which offered best pratice examples for others. Continuing the example from fiscal instruments - examples included:

Examine possibilities for taxing the production of plastics from fossil raw materials, combined with astimulus measure for the set-up of a circular plastics and textiles hub
Establish a working group “Circular Economy and Finance Economy” to expand the knowledge of financialproducts and risk management
Formulate justification and proposals for a circular shift of taxes: removal of food donation tax barriers (VAT), reduction of taxation on repair, shifting labor taxes to raw material taxes, financial circular incentivesfor enterprises (tax relief measures, subsidies, facilitation and reduction of licensing charges) as well asincentives for credit foundations financing circular projects (including industrial symbiosis)
Provide technical support to local banks for the identification of circular economy projects; update customsand tax regulations to facilitate the transport of waste from customs-free zones
Expand existing tax credit for household expenses and use it as an incentive mechanism for areas such asrepair services
Introduce environmental charges to tackle consumption of problematic products and promote a move tomore sustainable alternatives

Key findings from the global stocktake:

1. Despite the clear need, there is not yet a sufficient home to encourage coordination and collaboration on the circular economy within the current multilateral or intergovernmental system (when compared to that of climate and biodiversity) which serves to hinder progress.

2. The emergence of regional roadmaps and strategies or communities of practice will help encourage greater collaboration and coordination – but more is required.

Examples of regional roadmaps include the EU CEAP, the African Circular Economy Roadmap and the ASEAN Framework for a Circular Economy.

Examples of regional alliances include the EU CE Resource Centre, the Global Alliance for Circular Economy and Resource Efficiency, EU Circular Economy Stakeholder Platform, UNECE STEP, the African Circular Economy Alliance and African Circular Economy Network, the Latin America and the Caribbean CE Coalition, Global Roadmap for an Inclusive Circular Economy, and the ASEAN platform.

3. There is a significant lack of focus on the need to ensure a just and inclusive circular economy transition.
Considerations of social justice, equity and inclusiveness are as important for the circular economy transition as they are in the contexts of low-carbon transitions and digitalization of the economy yet they are consistently overlooked or sidelined.

4. A lack of recognition of the need to work collaboratively with the global community risks derailing a global just transition.
Each nation’s journey towards a circular economy will be unique given their economic and cultural contexts and such diversity should be celebrated. Yet if nations continue with a unilateral and fragmented approach to the circular economy, they not only risk failing to achieve domestic CE goals (since their success is dependent on the reconfiguration of global value chains) but also creating a circularity divide that exacerbates global inequities.

5. A long term, iterative, and committed approach to developing and implementing roadmaps/ strategies and a system of institutional governance which transcends short-term political cycles is required.
The following actions may help in this endeavor: (i) distinguishing between the development of a Call to Action, versus a Roadmap, versus an Operational Strategy; (ii) implementing a robust independent monitoring and evaluation process to hold action owners to account; and (iii) requiring delivery of roadmap actions via statutory means.

Learn more about the findings of the report

Below is a recording of the World Circular Economy Forum Accelerator session in which we present the preliminary results of the Global Stocktake as well as discuss roadmap developments in Africa and the LAC region.