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The potential a circular economy offers for rural development in Germany and Europe

2021-10-22 13:07 by Nina Kuenzer, Federal Institute for Research on Building, Urban Affairs and Spatial Development (BBSR), Germany, Division for European Spatial and Urban Development

This research project investigates the potential offered by a circular economy for an integrated and sustainable rural development in Germany and Europe. The analysis of territorial components for a successful implementation of circular economy strategies in rural areas plays a key role of this research project.

To facilitate the transition to a local economy that protects resources and fosters the potential for a sustainable regional development, circular economy strategies have become more and more relevant as part of a sustainable spatial and regional development. The approach of a circular economy has been approaching rapidly in European, national and regional policies and strategies, such as EU Green Deal or EU Circular Economy Strategy and its Stakeholder Platform. Also the Territorial Agenda 2030 addresses under its overarching objective “A Green Europe” the approach of a circular economy with an own and new priority. This priority emphasises in particular on the importance of a strong and sustainable local economy in a globalised world and highlights the importance of the development of local and regional circular economy strategies.

Whereas the idea of a circular economy originally referred primarily to waste prevention and disposal, today it is understood as a cross-sectoral approach, which promotes local, sustainable economies. Circular economy seeks to decouple economic growth from resource consumption, i.e. resources are used as efficiently as possible in a circular way, such as by extending the useful life of products and by recycling products and materials. Today, circular economy is furthermore considered as a field of policy action and a possible way to achieve sustainable economic growth throughout the entire economic system.

However, the shift to a local circular economy has territorial dimensions and depends on spatial components. It can help strengthen functional regions by diversifying the local economy and increasing the regions’ resilience in the face of outside influences. To date, few projects in Europe and Germany are exploring or supporting the implementation of circular economy strategies while taking territorial components into account (role of space). Most of these projects mainly focus on urban regions, as such regions are generally better able to adapt to and follow news trends than rural and peripheral ones.

In particular for the integrated development of rural regions, a circular economy approach which takes territorial components and dimensions into account offers enormous potential, for example in terms of regional resilience, capability for innovation, a diversified economy, new employment types, social patterns or overall well-being. Small and medium-sized cities in functional regions can benefit from a circular economy, for example with craft trades or manufacturing focused on rethinking repair and recycling. Other examples include applying new ideas for recycling in forestry and agriculture, re-using biomass from local landscaping and gardening businesses, or recycling building materials used in the public sector. The development and implemen¬tation of local and regional strategies, which are based on the individual strengths and conditions of the particular rural area and its functional relationships, are an important part of successfully implementing circular economy in rural areas. In the long term, innovative ideas and integrated, local solutions for introducing circular economy in rural regions can help reduce disparities, promote social cohesion and lead to lasting equivalence in living conditions.

The research project addresses the following questions:

  • What potential does a circular economy strategy offer for an integrated development of rural areas in Germany?
  • Which spatial/territorial components are decisive for successfully applying a circular economy strategy in rural areas of Germany?
  • Do local and regional development strategies already include a circular economy approach, and how are these strategies being implemented? How can this approach be integrated into spatial strategies in Germany?
  • Which rural regions in Europe are already applying this approach while taking spatial components into account (pioneering role)? What conclusions can be drawn for applying this approach in Germany’s rural regions?
  • How could future support for applying and implementing a circular economy strategy in Germany’s rural regions be provided?
  • What possibilities for European cooperation and future collaboration can be identified at regional level?

Key work packages of the project are:
1. Policy analysis of the thematic area
2. Outline of the territorial/spatial dimension and the potential for rural development in Germany
3. Investigation on case studies in Germany and Europe
4. Transfer/up-scaling and policy recommendations

Project duration: September 2021 – September 2023

The results of the project shall help to apply good practices and approaches from other rural regions in Europe in order to develop and strengthen rural regions in Germany. Positive experiences from Germany will also be transferred to other rural regions and countries of Europe.

The programme Region gestalten

The research project is being carried out as part of the regional planning programme Region gestalten. With this programme, the Federal Institute for Research on Building, Urban Affairs and Spatial Development (BBSR) and the directorate-general for community at the Federal Ministry of the Interior, Building and Community provide funding for projects in the field of spatial planning and social cohesion with a special focus on rural areas. These projects implement the conclusions of the Commission on Equivalent Living Conditions (“Unser Plan für Deutschland 2019” (Our plan for Germany 2019)) and help to achieve equivalent, sustainable spatial development in all of Germany’s regions. The programme funds innovative ideas for developing rural areas which are carried out and investigated using pilot and individual projects.

For more information follow this link.

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