Shifting Paradigms launched a metabolic analysis for Almaty region, to advance circular economy concepts in an emerging, transition economy.
Almaty is a city which is undergoing rapid changes. In only a few years it developed a Bus Rapid Transit System, rolled out a network of bikelanes, opened its first metro line, closed parts of the city for traffic to make way for pedestrians and playgrounds. This shows that if there is committment, the city is capable of rapidly changing course. According to the city administration and a growing community of engaged citizens, this is only the start.
The circular economy can provide a compelling sustainability roadmap for the city and its ambitions to grow and become an even more attractive place to live.
Circular economy strategies can decouple economic growth from resource use, making material use regenerative rather than depletive. It does that by proposing strategies which reduce the input of virgin materials, improve the use of existing assets and reduce the output of harmful waste. Circular economy is an opportunity for Kazakhstan to define a development pathway which relies on improving the efficiency of resources and assets which the country already has available. It can also inspire private sector growth which relies on the ‘mining’ of secondary materials, rather than delving deeper into primary natural resources.
The project aims to support Almaty with defining circular economy strategies which enable resilient economic development combined with waste reduction, healthier urban living conditions and improved use of existing resource and asset potential. As a secondary objective, the project aims to contribute to gaining experience with circular economy strategies in the context of a country with an economy in transition. It seeks to understand under which conditions the approach can be replicated to other cities and countries.
Almaty as a regional frontrunner
Kazakhstan is a major supplier of raw materials, and appears at the very beginning of many global supply chains. Almaty is the trading centre for most of the natural resources from Kazakhstan. Its location on a transport hub which connects China with Central Asia and Russia, will make it an important station on the Belt and Road initiative. It is also the largest city in Central Asia and an example to other cities in the region.
Almaty is facing issues with air quality, waste management and, although the city is surrounded by agricultural land, a lot of food supplies are flown in from abroad. An expansion of local production has a competitive advantage over products which are flown in from far away, both from an economic and environmental perspective.
Kazakhstan has a wealth of natural resources. Its dependence on resource rents, the export of raw materials are an important source of income, makes the its economy vulnerable to fluctuations in commodity prices, in particular oil and metals. With the oil prices decreasing throughout 2014 and 2015, GDP declined with 42%. To improve resilience of the economy, the World Bank called for a reduction in the role of the state in the economy, and foster the emergence of sectors beyond oil. The critical development challenges for Kazakhstan are:
- its heavy reliance on temporary resource rents from oil exports to stimulate economic growth;
- raw material exports which prevents the growth of local industry;
- waste management, which relies heavily on landfilling;
- water scarcity.
Kazakhstan has high ambitions for green growth. Starting in 2018, the country is revising its green growth strategy and environmental code. The circular economy concept had been hardly considered when the current green growth strategy was adopted in 2013. The project team will demonstrate how circular economy concepts can contribute to the national green growth ambitions. This activity will build on the experience of the team with circular economy policies (SP, 2017).
Circular economy and global resource use
The linear use of resources, whereby materials are extracted, used once and then disposed of, still dominates 90% of global resource use (SP, 2018). This prevents progress on the Sustainable Development Goals, and exacerbates pressing issues like climate change, the dispersement of plastics in oceans, eutrophication and water pollution.
Improving the resource efficiency of economies with circular economy strategies is a promising way to shape low-carbon and resource efficient development. Greenhouse gas emissions and material management are closely related since at least 67% of global greenhouse gas emissions stem from the mostly linear chain or extraction-production-consumption and disposal of materials and goods (SP, 2018).
To feed a predominantly linear global economy, 84 billion tonnes of resources were extracted in 2015, excluding water. Between 1970 and 2010, global material extraction tripled, and population and economic growth are expected to push this figure to 186 billion tonnes per year by 2050 (IRP, 2017).
Reducing the material footprint of a city requires a proper understanding of the relevant value chains, and the economic fabric which the city is part of. Circular economy opportunities can reduce material use and emissions all the way up to the processing and manufacturing industries, fields, forests, wells and mines from which its raw materials and products originate. Identifying these opportunities requires a systems approach in which resource flows within Almaty city, as well as the surrounding oblast are mapped. It also requires looking beyond the physical product which an industry delivers, into the service which it provides to society, through its product, as an employer and as a vital element in a broader socio-metabolic tissue.
Client: Emerging Markets Sustainability Dialogue Challenge Fund
Partners: Circle Economy; Center for Sustainable Production and Consumption in Kazakhstan; Fabrications
Advisory team: Almaty Municipality, UNDP, UN Environment, Asian Development Bank, European Bank for Reconstruction and Development, Kazakhstan Business Council for Sustainable Development, Almaty Chamber of Commerce, EU Delegation in Kazakhstan, Waste Management Company Tartyp.