The World Economic Forum is playing a crucial role in spurring Africa’s transformation to a circular economy that delivers economic growth, jobs and positive environmental outcomes.
Conceived by the World Economic Forum and the Government of Rwanda in 2016 and then launched in 2017, The African Circular Economy Alliance (ACEA) is a country-led platform, that aims to lead advocacy projects, undertake policy research and support high-impact circular-economy projects.
Co-chaired by the environment ministers of Rwanda, Nigeria and South Africa, with 10 member countries from across the African continent, the ACEA has given rise to a multi-donor trust fund with initial capital of €4 million. The Africa Circular Economy Support Programme (ACESP) will fund circular economy entrepreneurs and circular economy activities in countries that have joined the alliance.
What’s the opportunity?
In a circular economy, all resources are used to their highest value and reused continuously rather than being thrown away.
The size of the economic opportunity from rethinking how resources are used is vast. For example, there is 100 times more gold in a tonne of smartphones than a tonne of gold ore, but many phones are not properly recycled, wasting these resources. Accenture has valued this global opportunity at $4.5 trillion.
Africa is well placed to profit from this opportunity. The United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) reports that there are 200 million people aged between 15 and 24 on the continent. This number is expected to double by 2045, providing a potential demographic dividend for fast economic growth if enough jobs are created.
The United States Environmental Protection Agency (US EPA) calculates that for every 10,000 tonnes of used goods, putting them in landfill would create six jobs, recycling them would create 36 jobs, and reuse and repair could create up to 296.
The ACEA was first conceived in collaboration with the Rwandan Ministry of Environment at the World Economic Forum on Africa in 2016. Rwanda has long been a leader in circular economy and was one of the first countries in the world to ban plastic bags. At the World Economic Forum on Africa in 2017, South Africa and Nigeria joined the alliance as co-chairs and ACEA was born.
The Forum used its multistakeholder platform to bring the parties together and continues to provide financial and in-kind support. However, the ACEA is a country-led programme fully governed by the co-chairs. It is supported by a number of strategic partners including the Forum, the AfDB, the Global Environment Facility (GEF), UN Environment Programme (UNEP), the Government of Finland and the Platform for Accelerating the Circular Economy, with financial support from the Danish and Finnish governments and the Nordic Council.
The ACEA secretariat has already begun researching how circular economy approaches can aid sustainable economic growth across Africa and the findings will be presented to all environment ministers as part of the African Ministerial Conference on the Environment in 2021.
How can you get involved?
One ACEA project is a collaboration with the Forum’s Regional Action Group on Africa and the Africa Plastics Recycling Alliance, a coalition which includes Diageo, Unilever, The Coca-Cola Company and Nestlé. This collaboration will spark collaboration between companies and policy-makers working on building a PET bottle-to-bottle recycling industry on the continent, which will reduce waste and also create jobs.
If your organization is undertaking research on the circular economy in Africa, or if you have a high-impact project you would like to share, the ACEA would like to hear from you. You can also find out more in the upcoming World Economic Forum Circular Economy Regional Roundtable Series.