“When the time comes to kickstart the global economy again in the wake of the COVID-19 crisis, it will be crucial to incorporate thinking about the green transition as an engine of recovery,” the Nordic environment ministers announced after a recent meeting in late April.[i]
In a moment of crisis, it can be difficult to think beyond the next day or next week. Even so the Covid-19 pandemic actualizes important questions of strategy. The most pressing question is how we might all play a part in bringing this pandemic to an end, but it also gives us an opportunity to think more long-term about what we want our organizations to stand for and what future we want to build together with our key partners. What if we could co-create a future without waste and pollution? Or if we could support innovation actors to design for durability, reuse, remanufacturing, and recycling to keep products, components, and materials circulating in the economy? What if we could help creating a circular economy?
India’s nationwide lockdown have brought supply chains to a screeching halt and CO2 emissions have fallen for the first time in four decades. Across the country sustainability advocates have expressed hopes that the clean air and clear skies Indians have enjoyed since lockdown will increase public pressure on the government to curb emissions and transform the heavy-industry sector. The post Covid recovery presents an opportunity for India to harness the many benefits of a circular economy. By 2050, 60% of India’s population will live in urban areas – up from about 30% today. Growth is so rapid that 70% of the building stock that will be used in 2030 is yet to be built. Research by Ellen McArthur Foundation shows that a circular economy path to development could bring India annual benefits of US$ 624 billion in 2050 compared with the current development path – a benefit equivalent to 30% of India’s current GDP.[ii]
This is why OSI India has formed a new partnership with Denmark, Finland and Norway to explore how the Nordics could cooperate with India on circular economy at a city scale and from an innovation policy perspective. Together with our Nordics colleagues we recently submitted a project proposal on waste management and circular value creation to Nordic Innovation. If successful, we’ll have several exciting Nordic-India engagements to look forward to over the coming two years.
Waste management is a major obstacle towards realizing a circular economy in India. At the same time, many aspects of circularity are already deeply ingrained in the Indian society. There are for example high rates of utilization and repair of some electronic appliances, including vehicles, and recycling of materials post-use. For example, 60% of discarded plastics are recycled in India, compared to 6% in the US. Such waste management activities may in many instances provide the only source of livelihood for people living on the margin. As these activities are often handled informally and happen at the end of the value chains, with little upstream effort to enable effective recovery or upcycling, they bring little economic value. They also lead to significant health risks and negative environmental impact. It’s reasonable to expect that these informal waste practices will become less attractive as the Indian economy and middle class continue to grow. This is why a more systematic approach to modernize waste management and create a regenerative economy is needed.
To enable the transition to a circular economy, the Indian government has launched a national waste-to-wealth mission aimed at identifying and deploying solutions that can treat waste, generate energy, recycle materials, and extract new resources. The mission is overseen by the Principle Scientific Advisor to the Government of India, which OSI India has previously partnered with in several bilateral activities. Paired with India’s Smart City Mission, currently focusing on creating 100 smart cities, the waste-to-wealth mission presents a significant planning and investment vehicle for scaling up successful circular economy solutions. All Nordic countries have first-class expertise in waste management and could be an attractive partner to India in both missions.
Besides waste management, it is interesting to note that the Government of India has outlined an ambitious post-pandemic agenda for agricultural reform. Employing half of the working population and using 61% of the land, the agricultural sector is essential to the Indian economy.[i] India’s farm output ranks second in the world and the country is an emerging global exporter of agricultural products. Proposed recovery strategies by the Indian government suggests that time is ripe for India to embrace circular economy approaches in its agriculture sector. From a technology perspective digitally enabled asset- and knowledge-sharing solutions could support efficiency by enabling small farmers to share machinery and co-create economies of scale. New digital platforms could also help digitize food supply chains and transmit accurate market information to food producers and connect producers with their customers, improving inventory and production management and cutting supply chain costs. Furthermore, food technology – be it precision agriculture, the use of drones to target diseases, the use of sensors in irrigation to increase water efficiency or new storage techniques – is an area where India is looking to develop and adopt innovations to increase agriculture productivity and sustainability. We look forward to following these developments more in-depth.
Covid-19 is changing the trajectory of governments, economies and businesses. Some of these changes are direct and short-term responses to the crises and will revert to regular levels once the virus is contained. However, some changes, such as recovery strategies, will have profound impacts and create new development paths for decades to come. For us, the Covid-19 pandemic has triggered us to rethink how we can use science and innovation diplomacy to create long-term prosperity. We look forward to co-launching new circular economy initiatives, as well as reinforcing existing efforts, together with our Indian and Nordic stakeholders.
If you are a Swedish company looking to offer circular economy solutions for the Indian market, please contact us! We will be happy to hear your thoughts and have a detailed discussion. Let’s co-create a circular future and don’t forget to follow us on Twitter to get regular updates and news on Sweden-India R&I cooperation.
Greetings from the OSI Team
Fanny, Leena, Mini & Emma