Keynote Address by Christiane Rohleder at the 6th European Resource Forum

Dr. Christiane Rohleder opened the 6th European Resource Forum on December 1st. In her speech, she spoke about issues of resource protection and the circular economy as well as the measures planned by the federal government.

– Check against delivery –

Mr. Messner,
Ladies and Gentlemen,

On behalf of Minister Steffi Lemke, I would like to extend a warm welcome to you all to the 6th European Resources Forum.

This forum takes place right in between two important environmental conferences – the Climate Change Conference in Egypt and the UN Conference on Biological Diversity in Montreal. The timing of this forum is therefore just right, because resource conservation also belongs at the heart of our policy to tackle the current crises.

The global environmental crises are presenting us with existential challenges in Europe and as the international community – the impending collapse of the climate system, unprecedented species extinction and there is now practically no place on this planet that is not affected by pollution.

It is clear that resource conservation and circular economy play a major role in overcoming the global environmental crises. This was also the message of an event, which my ministry organised together with the International Resource Panel during the Climate Change Conference in Egypt. For the first time, the IPCC (Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change), IPBES (Intergovernmental Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services) and the IRP (International Resource Panel) were together on the same panel. I very much hope that this will inspire regular cooperation. This would be a lasting success of the Climate Change Conference.

There is another dimension to resource conservation that is very relevant right now. We are confronted with bottlenecks in supply, disrupted supply chains and drastically increased energy and raw material prices. When we talk about resource efficiency and circular economy, we are also talking about building resilience to crises and economic stability, and thus contributing to our national security.

Good products, good infrastructure and good services make it possible for us to lead comfortable and healthy lives and maintain economic development. But, from the very beginning of their life cycle, every product and infrastructure system that we use has major environmental impacts: greenhouse gas emissions, the destruction of nature and water consumption. The key to tackling the present crises is to change our consumption and production patterns and use significantly fewer finite resources.

Our economic practices are still too linear. Too many products end up as waste after a by and large short period of use – coffee cups, packaging, smart phones.

We need to replace this with comprehensive circular economy. We have to take this into account more often at the start of a product cycle – in the product design stage. Product design must make it possible to put products back into the material cycle at the end of their lifetime and be given a second life, so to speak. The European Commission presented key elements for achieving this in its European Green Deal and Circular Economy Action Plan. I am very interested to hear what Executive Vice President of the European Commission, Frans Timmermans, has to say on this later.

Waste that is created must, first and foremost, be used as a raw material source for new products. This will ensure that fewer resources are used overall. If fewer primary resources are needed and raw materials are kept in the cycle, circular economy will also help make our economies resilient to crises. To this end, we plan to adopt a national circular economy strategy.

It is clear that individual measures alone will not achieve a transformation on the scale required. That is why we have to consider systemic solutions. Let me give you four concrete examples:

  • Extended producer responsibility: This means that producers can be obliged to take their end-of-life products back for reprocessing or high-quality recycling. This principle is also being successfully applied in Germany.
  • The packaging transition and renaissance of reusable packaging: single-use packaging must be made unattractive and reusable packaging the new standard. For instance, from 2023 restaurants and cafes are obliged to offer their take-away food and drink in reusable packaging as well.
  • Rental and repair services: circular economy will foster new business models. For instance, businesses can rent out products instead of selling them, or offer to repair the products.
  • Another example is public transport: a well-functioning public transport system plays a vital role in resource conservation, because when more people switch from using cars to public transport, enormous amounts of crude oil are saved. It also improves quality of life and mitigates climate change.

This transition to a resource-efficient circular economy cannot be accomplished at national level alone. Some things can only be effectively regulated at European level. For certain things, we need international solidarity, as was achieved with the decision for a UN agreement to end plastic pollution of the environment and oceans.

That is why Germany’s G7 Presidency this year focussed on resource efficiency and circular economy. In May, the environment ministers adopted the Berlin Roadmap, laying out a path for the major industrialised countries towards greater circularity over the coming years.

In addition to resolute policies, we need excellent science, the innovative drive of industry, and impetus from civil society and the media. You are all represented here today. I would like to thank the German Environment Agency and, on behalf of the BMUV, Mr Dirk Messner, for this event and important commitment. Together, we want to find solutions for resource conservation and the responsible use of our planet. I wish you and us all an interesting and successful event.

Thank you very much.

01.12.2022 | Speech Resource Efficiency

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