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  • As sleeping economic giants like India grow, the worry is they’ll take on the same bad habits as advanced countries. Alternatively, emerging economies could take on more “circular” approaches, according to a new report from the Ellen MacArthur Foundation and the United Nations Conference for Trade and Development (UNCTAD).

    High-growth markets like India can achieve competitive advantage over mature economies by moving to a circular economy. This could deliver benefits for the Indian population, such as cheaper products and services and reduced congestion and pollution. The report looks at ways to introduce circular approaches across the three areas:

    Cities and construction

    Renewable and recycled materials and modular construction methods can minimise waste and reduce construction costs. Buildings can be designed to be adaptable to changing needs and contribute to the regenerative urban ecosystem during their use phase (energy generation, connection to nutrient cycling systems, etc.). More systemic planning of city spaces, integrated with circular mobility solutions, can contribute to higher air quality, lower congestion, and reduced urban sprawl. Flexible use of buildings and urban spaces, enabled by digital applications, can increase utilisations rates, getting more value out of the same assets. Higher efficiency and lower overall building and infrastructure costs could also help meet the housing needs of the urban poor without compromising safety and quality.

    Food and agriculture

    An agricultural system geared towards closing nutrient loops could give the sector a framework for retaining natural capital, boosting economic and ecological resilience, and delivering a stable supply of fresh, healthy, and diverse food to India’s growing population. Leveraging the current small-farm structure, India could create large-scale networks of farmers, interconnected and symbiotic in their practices and committed to regenerative approaches. Combining local knowledge and traditional methods (like working with a large variety of species) with modern technology (like precision farming, and digitally enabled knowledge-sharing systems) could increase yield while significantly decreasing requirements for resources such as water, synthetic fertilisers, and pesticides.

    Reducing food waste across the supply chain could make the Indian food system even more effective. This would require optimising production and digitising food supply chains to match supply and demand more easily. Urban and peri-urban farming can bring food production closer to consumption, reducing food waste and transportation requirements.

    Mobility and vehicle manufacturing

    On mobility, it recommends India promote sharing schemes for bikes, scooters, and cars; introduce in-car connectivity systems (to better manage traffic flows); and increase engine remanufacturing, which uses 23% less energy compared to producing new engines from scratch. The goal would be to decrease car ownership (which is only 2% of population but expanding), keep vehicles on the road longer, and move to electric power, reducing noise and pollution and improving quality of life.

    Across three areas India could create $218 billion in additional economic value by 2030 ($624 billion in 2050) by adopting circular principles, compared to its current “development scenario,” the report says. At the same time, circularity could cut greenhouse gas emissions 23% by 2030 (44% by 2050), and reduce the use of virgin materials 24% by 2030 (38% by 2050).

    Source: Ellen MacArthur Foundation

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