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FP7

POLFREE Report Summary

Project reference: 308371
Funded under: FP7-ENVIRONMENT

Periodic Report Summary 2 - POLFREE (Policy Options for a Resource-Efficient Economy)

Project Context and Objectives:
Over the course of 42 months the POLFREE project aims to address four key questions:

• Why are resources in the European Union, and elsewhere, so often used inefficiently?
• What are the new concepts and policies that would enable them to be used more efficiently?
• What would a resource-efficient EU look like – economically, socially and culturally – and how would greater resource efficiency contribute to enhancing EU security and environmental quality?
• What are the steps that need to be taken, now and in the future, in terms of policy and governance in the EU and more widely, to turn visions of EU resource efficiency into practice?

To address these questions, the project has constructed a theoretical framework for the analysis of resource efficiency, with detailed comparison of the trends and policies at EU and Member State (MS) level, cross-country econometric analysis to derive resource-reduction cost curves, and an analysis of business and individual barriers to resource efficiency, thereby developing an enhanced understanding of the drivers of inefficient resource use.

The project has also explored new concepts and paradigms that can bring about a radical increase in resource efficiency, and has developed a vision for a resource efficient economy in the EU, considering new, more resource efficient, business models for firms, and ideas for a global governance regime that can promote resource-efficient economies among the EU’s trading partners and more widely. From its new vision for a resource-efficient Europe, the project has proposed propose new policy mixes, business models and mechanisms of global governance through which resource-efficient economies may be promoted.

All this analytical work has been complemented with advanced modelling and visualising scenarios for the emergence of resource-efficient economies, through linking quantitative macro-economic and ecological models, and simulating the policies and policy mixes derived in the earlier work, supplemented with appropriate LCA analysis, to ensure that the policies and business models in the scenarios lead to adequate absolute decoupling of economic activity from resource use and environmental degradation and are sufficient to achieve the quantitative targets defined in the vision. The scenarios and associated policy analysis will be given an integrated interpretation across economic, ecological and social dimensions.

Project Results:
After the initial 18th months of the project, that provided solid theoretical and analytical foundations for the understanding of the drivers to inefficient resource use and investigated policy options to radically increase resource efficiency, this second period has focused on providing an integrated understanding of the findings of WP1 and WP2 and defining an ambitious policy mix for resource efficiency, setting the basis for the modelling work and the development of the scenarios. The modelling work has provided insights into the implications of the different pathways and scenarios and the mix of policies required to achieve a resource efficient, low carbon economy in Europe. Also, importantly, the results of the modelling suggest that the achievement of ambitious environmental/ resource efficient targets may have a positive impact on economic growth and job creation. Ten key deliverables have been submitted in this period.

In Work Package 1, the work has concentrated on the integrated analysis of why resources have been used inefficiently. This is a complex question and does not have a straightforward answer, for a number of reasons. In the first place resources are diverse, including biotic and abiotic materials, energy, water, soil, and ecosystem services. Most human activities and policies involve, directly and indirectly, multiple resources being consumed and released back into natural ecosystems in the form of emissions and waste. A second reason for lack of straightforward answers is that in resource use human agency matters, and for understanding practices of human agency, single factor explanations do not offer much mileage. For instance, green values are not a good predictor for green behaviour: values tend to interplay with many other things, such as with costs, preferences, social norms, convenience, infrastructural context, policies, etc., often dampening the influence of green values. In other words, the answer to the question of inefficient resource use is a compound and complex one. An analytical framework has been defined to address this complex question. The framework moves away from the idea of barriers to resource efficiency to that of “web of constraints” that emphasises the complex pattern of interaction, stemming from the co-evolution of supply and demand. The web of constraints is analysis from different angles and perspectives, including the legislative/ regulatory perspectives, both at the EU and national levels, the business and the individual perspectives. The analysis also highlights the interaction between different dimensions and perspectives. For example, the way policies are defined and implemented demarcates the framework conditions that shape business interaction and the set of incentives/disincentives to more resource efficient business models and practices. The work in WP1 has also provided preliminary insights in what may be the economic implications of resource efficiency improvements, through the modeling of resource reduction cost curves. The curves showed a positive impact of resource reduction on growth and jobs and at the same time a reduction of global resource extractions, although all rebound effects are considered.
In Work Package 2, the work has concentrated in the development of an ambitious policy mix for a resource efficient Europe. This builds upon the policy horizon defined in the POLFREE vision and a detailed analysis of innovative policy instruments in a number of key selected areas. The policy mix goes beyond a simple list of policy instruments to consider complex interactions between instruments and interactions and feedback loops between different implementation levels (from supranational to local levels). Policy packaging also needs considering the narratives into which policy options are nested and how new business models and governance structures need to emerge to bridge the gap between different policy landscapes and objectives.

Work Package 3 through advanced modelling has provided invaluable insights into the implications of resource efficiency policies on environmental objectives such as decoupling and low carbon development but also economic growth and job creation. Three main scenarios for driving resource-efficiency have been explored: (1) Strong Cooperation – driven by cooperation at the global level; (2) Europe Leads - Europe implements strong goals and measures but responses elsewhere are weak and uncoordinated; and (3) Civil Society leads- Europe has a strong emphasis on sustainable consumption, production and bottom-up processes. Policy characteristics, sub-targets and policy mixes have been defined for each of these scenarios. The economic-environmental MRIO models selected for the project (EXIOMOD/GINFORS) have been extended to include water demand and land use decisions and linked with a biophysical model (LPJmL) in order to provide an understanding of the implications of resource efficiency policies not only on resource use but also GHG emissions targets and water and land use as well as key economic and social indicators. Based on policy mixes, that have been identified and analysed in WP2, the quantitative results show on the one hand the strength of policy intervention and behavioural change that is needed to reach – as far as possible – simultaneously the aspired European environmental goals for CO2 emissions and raw material, land and water use up to 2050. On the other hand they show the economic and social impacts of these pathways compared to a reference scenario that is characterized by continuing on as in the past.

Potential Impact:
The project has identified three independent pathways for achieving the vision of a resource-efficient Europe in 2050. Each pathway is based on a number of different assumptions about the institutional set-up and has associated a policy package, which is expected to achieve the quantitative targets established in the vision. Each scenario reveals the policy choices, their costs and opportunities, and their associated timelines, set into the context of different global and European attitudes, values and strategic choices. The project also provides insights into the process of policy packages and explores innovative policy instruments to radically increase resource efficiency.
In doing so, the work is explicitly geared to support policy efforts and initiatives on resource efficiency in the European Commission, yet incorporating the views of a much wider set of stakeholders in its development, from the business, policy and NGO worlds.

Importantly, the modelling work in the project offers detailed analysis of the implications of implementing ambitious policy mixes for resource efficiency for the achievement of environmental and economic objectives and insights into the sectoral trade-offs and competitive opportunities.

Great emphasis has been put on making complex research findings relevant to policy makers and other stakeholders through an intensive work on stakeholder engagement and dissemination. During the last eighteen months major findings from the research have been presented at key international and European fora, including several oral presentations and a POLFREE dissemination workshop at the 2015 World Resources Forum in Davos, Switzerland, a dissemination event targeted at MEPs at the European Parliament, policy platforms and dissemination events in Brussels, and deep interactions with the activities of the International Resources Panel and other European Platforms in the area of resource efficiency and the circular economy.

The next phase of the project focused on the dissemination of the project’s research outcomes and the engagement in stakeholder discussions and dialogues to explore issues of policy feasibility and governance architectures. Next planned dissemination events include several high level policy platforms, a global policy event that will take place in London but would be broadcasted to a global audience and several presentations and networking events, where the work of POLFREE will be communicated to different audiences. A series of interviews and graphic information is currently under elaboration to disseminate key findings from the research to a wider audience.

List of Websites:
www.polfree.eu

Related information

Contact

Cornfield, Kimberly (European Project Manager)
Tel.: +442031083038
E-mail
Record Number: 182512 / Last updated on: 2016-05-19
Information source: SESAM