Ecology versus the economy?

Helsinki Times, March 2019

From time to time I am asked, which science is the stronger one, ecology or the economy. The answer is obvious. Ecology sets the framework for all human activities, including and especially the economy. There is no sustainable economic or social development if we keep breaching ecological limits. This is one reason why we have no choice but to fight climate change and stop the degradation of biodiversity with every means we can think of. We must urgently stop over-consuming the natural resources our only planet provides us with.

The good news is that we can do this. Transforming our economies into low-carbon circular economies will even increase their competitiveness. According to a recent report by the VTT Technical Research Centre of Finland and the Finnish Environment Institute SYKE economic wellbeing measured by the GDP would increase in all four low-emission scenarios presented in the study. And in order to maintain adequate social benefits and good quality public services, such as health care and free education, which are the corner stones of our society we do need a flourishing economy too.

Circular economy is a key part of the solution. It will help us decouple economic growth from CO2 emissions and the use of natural resources. In the future products must be designed and produced so that they are reusable, repairable, more durable and in the end recyclable. This way the use of virgin raw materials will diminish. Fossil materials will be replaced with renewable ones. Single use plastics are on their way to history and more and more plastics are already being replaced with products made of wood and recycled materials. In the future we will share more and own less. The yellow city bikes and shared vehicles are just a beginning.  Circular economy will also boost our economic competitiveness. According to a report by the Finnish Innovation Fund Sitra circular economy holds an annual economic growth potential of 1,5-2,5 billion euros by the year 2030.

The economic revolution forces us to rethink policies. As a former entrepreneur I find it important to drive economic policies that produce a conducive environment for businesses of all sizes to develop their activities as well as support the creation of new, low-carbon business models. Our labour laws must allow micro-entrepreneurs to employ people at a reasonable risk and international professionals to develop motivating careers in Finland. Taxation needs to be an even stronger driver of fossil free and circular development. Our waste, chemical and product legislation needs to enable the development of circular economy products and services safely.

Turning our societies and economies to a sustainable path will necessitate massive systemic changes that can only be achieved with consistent policy-making and broad societal participation. One key task for us decision makers is to make sure that the necessary transition will be a fair one, to everyone. We will succeed or fall together.