A circular world is biodiverse. But does biodiversity need the circular economy?

Nature’s biodiversity is all around us. Photo by Dustin Humes on Unsplash

Lion King for grown-ups

There are numerous definitions of the circular economy out there, but one that resonates with us is based on the Disney classic, The Lion King. In this ‘Lion King philosophy for grown-ups’, materials are encouraged to be used at their highest value, for as long as possible. ‘The bison becomes the grass’, or, translated into our 21st-century urban reality; ‘your bottle’s lid becomes your skateboard’. In a circular economy, all materials should be used in such a way that they can be cycled indefinitely, just as they theoretically can in nature.

In nature, there is no such thing as ‘waste’. Photo by Sergey Pesterev on Unsplash

You need biodiversity for a circular economy, but do you need a circular economy for biodiversity?

Biodiversity is the variety and variability of life on Earth. Rates of biodiversity are typically the measure of variation at the genetic, species and ecosystem level. All species, including humans, are dependent on this complexity and its intricate balance of natural life in ecosystems — micro- to macro-level — for their survival. People are becoming increasingly aware of the wide range of goods and services that nature gives them for free, as well as the imperative need to protect it. We depend on many of these services for our lives — from fish to wood, clean air and water as well as essential services such as water management and flood control.

A circular economy helps us think beyond silos

Many of us initially consider designated protected areas when we think about biodiversity. Biodiversity, however, is so much more than this. Yes, we need to preserve and restore ecosystems, but we also need to do this from multiple perspectives: cities and our own gardens, for example. Although cities only account for approximately 3% of the Earth’s surface, they are often located at important ecosystem junctions for biodiversity. The support and regeneration of urban biodiversity, therefore, must be integrated into decision making and policy.

In practice: The case of circular fishing

In the example of fishing, we know what works when it comes to restoring biodiversity: establishing science-based management regimes, ending harmful subsidies, effective harvest control rules and clamping down on illegal, unregulated and unreported fishing. So how does the circular economy come into play? The three core elements of the circular economy, as defined by Circle Economy’s Key Elements Framework (KE), can inspire action in different ways. The framework consists of three core elements and five enabling elements. Core elements deal with material flows directly, whilst enabling elements deal with creating the conditions, or removing barriers, for a circular transition. The KE framework is a lens that can be applied to different sectors and contexts, such as fishing.

Circle Economy’s DISRUPT framework which contains three core and five enabling elements to the circular economy .

Preserving and restoring ecosystems needs investment. Good news! It can also pay off

Biodiversity conservation potentially has direct economic benefits for many sectors of the economy. For example, conserving marine stocks could increase annual profits of the seafood industry by more than €49 billion, while protecting coastal wetlands could save the insurance industry around €50 billion annually through reducing flood damage losses.

Moving forward

The circular economy has been criticised for not addressing biodiversity directly, or not focussing on the topic enough. The key principles of the circular economy, however, can inspire actions to either reduce pressures or simply preserve the natural environment. Although biodiversity protection and restoration need much more investment, it is promising to understand just how much these investments can pay off in the long term. Nonetheless, we should not focus only on return on investment for the protection of biodiversity. Biodiversity has an intrinsic value on itself, that we will not be able to address in economic terms.

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We empower businesses, cities and nations with practical and scalable solutions to put the circular economy into action.