The Government of Vanuatu is leveraging the circular economy to increase the ambition of its greenhouse gas mitigation pledge under the Paris Agreement. While system thinking reveals new mitigation opportunities, the circular economy in Vanuatu also allows the country to reduce upstream or embodied emissions in imported goods and services. By expanding the responsibility for emissions beyond the national territories, Vanuatu aims to inspire other countries to do the same.
Vanuatu is 59% circular
According to the new metrics proposed in this report, an estimated 59 percent of material consumption in Vanuatu is circular. This means that the country relies mostly on secondary and regenerative materials and energy sources, and that most of these materials are recovered after their use. The remaining 41 percent of materials used can be described as following a linear ‘take-make-waste’ trajectory. Those materials are primarily of foreign origin and largely incompatible with the country’s development ambitions because they create waste disposal problems and contribute to the deterioration of natural assets by polluting soils, surface waters and marine environments.
The government of Vanuatu is already prioritizing the conservation of natural assets for future generations over short-term gains. This is important since many of its inhabitants directly rely on healthy soils, forests and marine environments for their subsistence. They are directly exposed to and well aware of the adverse impacts of pollution The circular economy analytics used in this report help identify opportunities that can contribute to the conservation of natural assets, both by avoiding waste and reducing the extraction of primary resources.
The report was commissioned by UNDP and the Government of Vanuatu as part of the NDC Support Programme, which is helping countries advance integrated climate and development solutions through the implementation of the Paris Agreement on Climate Change. The programme was launched in 2017 at the UN Climate Summit (COP23), by UNDP, together with the European Union and the Governments of Germany and Spain. The programme is implemented in contribution to the NDC Partnership.
Circular opportunities can reduce greenhouse gas emissions with 44%
Taken together, the circular economy opportunities proposed in this analysis can help avoid, between today and 2030, some 48 percent of solid waste, decrease primary resource extraction by 8 percent and reduce the trade deficit. They can also reduce national greenhouse gas emissions by 10 percent or, even, 44 percent when considering only emissions from sectors targeted in this metabolic analysis. The circular economy interventions proposed also mitigate foreign greenhouse gas emissions by 18 percent. These emissions occur in the production of products that are imported into Vanuatu.
The main opportunities involve:
- Converting grassland to silvopastoral livestock systems;
- Applying anaerobic digestion for municipal, industrial and agricultural organic waste. This will divert organic waste from landfills and produce both biogas and soil enhancers. Where volumes are too small for a biogas plant, or where the emphasis is on producing a good soil enhancer rather than producing biogas, composting can be used instead.
- Collaborating with development partners to develop circular procurement to reduce waste, resource extraction and GHG emissions associated with investments;
- Aligning Vanuatu’s tax regime with its development ambitions, increasing government revenue by taxing pollution and using these revenues to support the transition to a circular economy; and,
- Collecting and sorting recyclable materials and exporting those that cannot be used or processed domestically.
Updating the Nationally Determined Contribution
This metabolic analysis supported an update of Vanuatu’s greenhouse gas mitigation pledge under the Paris Agreement. Vanuatu is on the frontlines of climate change. It is highly exposed to its impacts change, even as the country adopts policy measures that will help preserve natural assets and keep GHG emissions per capita low. With an annual per capita material footprint of 6.1 tonnes and a per capita carbon footprint of 2.1 tCO2e, Vanuatu’s population already maintains a small carbon and material footprint.
The circular economy is an economic concept that aims to decouple economic growth from resource use, making material use regenerative, and minimize the use of finite, non-renewable resources. It does so by optimizing the use of existing assets and materials, thus reducing the use of primary materials and lowering the output of harmful wastes, including greenhouse gasses. By focusing on what is already available and altering the design of new products and assets, the circular economy concept can help Vanuatu define a development pathway that diversifies its economy, avoids waste and meets the needs of its inhabitants without degrading its natural assets.
Vanuatu 2030 is the country’s mid-term development roadmap. It states that “Our people and place are at the very heart of our development aspirations. Together we strive for a nation that is stable, sustainable and prosperous, so that all people have a just and equal opportunity to be well educated, healthy and wealthy. Just as we strive to progress in a way that protects and preserves our natural resources for our children, and theirs”. These principles are also at the heart of the circular economy.
Applying the circular economy concept to preserve natural assets
Vanuatu’s 80 islands have chosen to depart from the traditional development pathway, where the use of large amounts of carbon-intensive materials helps build infrastructure, assemble stocks of consumer goods and provide material wealth. Instead, Vanuatu prioritizes its national resources and seeks to further advance national well-being without increasing material consumption and thereby avoid associated environmental impacts. The circular economy can guide the country in reducing its material impact even further, also targeting also the remaining 41 percent of material use for consumption that is still linear and that threatens the country’s natural asset base, such as its fishing stocks, forests and soils.
The New Economic Foundation suggests that the country’s people rank among the happiest in the world. The New Economic Foundation attributes this high ranking to immaterial aspects such as cultural diversity, a sustained peaceful and democratic tradition, and tight-knit communities that meet regularly to resolve conflicts.
This complete overview of material use in Vanuatu’s economy shows all materials used annually in metric tonnes, except for water and air. The width of each flow represents the tonnes of materials involved. When read from left to right, starting at the top left, the ‘Source’ column shows that most materials used are cycled and extracted. Vanuatu relies on domestic resources, mostly food, timber, firewood and minerals, for 90 percent of its material needs. The 10 percent of materials that do not originate from Vanuatu are imported. They are the less circular materials and more often are based on materials from depletive resources, such as metals. Given a waste management system that is not designed to process the metals and minerals in imported goods and materials, they are an immediate threat to Vanuatu’s environment and subsistence tradition. Most of these materials end up in the ecosystems on which many people rely.
This analysis of circular economy opportunities for Vanuatu seeks to help reduce the waste flow of imported materials, while also examining how to improve the resource efficiency of all material use, including domestically-sourced materials. The analysis focuses on materials with a relatively large carbon footprint. Where they include imported goods and materials, their reduction will also help to decrease emissions in other countries.
Finally, the circular economy can help Vanuatu communicate how it has consistently chosen an alternative to the linear development pathway and takes responsibility for future and past generations, as well as for the lives of those on distant shores.
Client: Climate Change Department under the Ministry of Climate Change, UNDP
Partners: Subbarao Consulting Services (SCS) Limited
Photo credits: Vanuatu shores: Photo by Stacie Lucas on Unsplash