Euro-China Green Economy theme: SINCERE (Sino-European Circular Economy and Resource Efficiency)

Lead Research Organisation: University College London
Department Name: Bartlett Sch of Env, Energy & Resources

Abstract

The SINCERE project (SINo-european Circular Economy and Resource Efficiency) is addressing the following priority themes under the Green Economy area:
- The greenness and dynamics of economies;
- Metrics and indicators for a green economy;
- Policies planning, and institutions (including business) for a green economy
- Green economy in cities and metropolitan areas.

A focus on resources, sustainable consumption and production is at the heart of the principles of the Green Economy, according to the UN. China and Europe have highlighted the importance of resource-efficiency and moving towards a 'circular economy'. Europe has adopted Resource Efficiency as a flagship initiative, and China passed a Circular Economy Law in 2009. In light of these policy developments, there is a need to better understand the importance of resource efficiency on economic performance, the metrics and indicators through which action can be motivated and monitored, the underlying drivers of change and prospects for the future, as well as the role of institutions and policies. SINCERE has been developed to address these issues by bringing together leading researchers from five countries: UCL ISR in the UK, the Institute for Applied Ecology in China, Wuppertal University and FHI-ISI in Germany, ParisMinesTech in France and UM-MERIT in the Netherlands.

A number of sometimes conflicting concepts can be found in debate describing desirable futures, e.g. the Green Economy, Sustainable Growth, etc. As the difference and the overlap across them is not always clear it is important to implement theoretical comparisons of these concepts and case studies exploring how they have been applied in Europe and China. Particular importance will be given to the Circular Economy and Resource Efficiency (CE/RE) and how they relate to the Green Economy. In addition to help deliver clarity in the theoretical debate, SINCERE will deliver new indicators for measuring CE/RE. As Indicators are critical for achieving policy goals, we will tackle them from three different angles through Emergy, innovation and SGAP-based indicators.

Policy and Institutional settings are clearly very influential on how our society moves towards a Green Economy. The journey of innovations from laboratories to the marketplace is very influenced by policies and institutions supposed to tackle the obstacles normally faced by new technologies. SINCERE will examine the importance of innovation in enabling resource efficiency, both in China and Europe, and will study what enables and prevents the development of new, resource-efficient technologies.

In the last part of the project SINCERE will examining historical patterns between CE/RE and macro-economic performance with particular focus on the relationship between CE/RE, economic competiveness, trade, and industrial structure. After having assessed past trends SINCERE will model how the future might look like by producing scenarios to analyse the implications of CE/RE on the economy, and the impact of policies. This will include multi-scale modelling, from the urban to the global scale. Models play a key role in economic and environmental policy, but often the issue of resources has been sidelined in economic modelling, leaving policymakers without clear guidance on the importance of the issues. Our modelling work will advance the state-of-the-art for analysis of the macro-economics of resources.

SINCERE is a collaborative project building on the comparative advantage of the partners and their knowledge of the national context to develop a truly multi-disciplinary project where disciplines such as neoclassical economic, system dynamics, econometrics, ecology and innovation studies find a space to make an overall compelling picture. Our workplan is integrated to ensure that this project has a legacy so that the ties developed between European and Chinese partners are here to stay and produce future projects.

Planned Impact

The research will provide evidence of considerable value to policymakers. Both the EU and China, along with many EU member states, have adopted high-level policies to advance resource efficiency and circular economy aspirations. However, existing data and insights are limited, both in terms of the likely economic implications of achieving higher levels of resource efficiency, and in terms of the drivers (principally innovation and technological change) of resource efficiency and the way in which these can be influenced by policy.

Through developing indicators for studying the green economy, we will enable researchers statistical agencies to better monitor resource efficiency. In particular, it is envisaged that recommendations will be made to the European Environment Agency and China's Ministry of Environmental Protection for indicators to use in monitoring progress towards resource efficiency and circular economy goals. The letters of support indicate interest from policy organisations (such as ADEME) and policy advisory bodies (e.g. OECD), and it is expected that this interest will grow as the project develops further insights and evidence.

Evidence on the comparative innovation performance, and on the effectiveness of innovation policy support, will be of direct use for those involved in developing innovation policy for resource efficiency. The analysis of co-evolution of policy with innovation system activities is likely to yield conclusions about policy design and co-ordination.

By advancing the state-of-the-art in macro-modelling of resource efficiency, SINCERE will enhance the analytic capacity of researchers and policy organisations for studying the importance of resource efficiency. The benefits will be felt both in terms of the substantive conclusions (for example, on the relative importance of various factors in contributing to resource efficiency at the macro level), and in terms of the methodological insights.

Impact will be achieved through the engagement of stakeholders directly in the work; through publication and dissemination of outputs; through the development of datasets and tools that will be springboards for further analysis - all these are set out in the pathways to impact plan.

Publications

10 25 50
 
Description Most significant achievements
SINCERE has been a fascinating project with international partners on a subject of global interest - how will the Chinese economy be developing over the next years and decades, and how could concepts of resource efficiency and circular economy shape current unsustainable trends. The project has delivered on all angles and generated very useful capabilities for future collaborations, especially between the two key partners UCL and SJTU. The three most significant achievements are as follows:
1) Evidence on a saturation effect - We addressed the question of Chinese resource consumption pathways in a novel combination of historical data, material flow analysis and economics, and compared with historical evidence for UK, USA, Germany and Japan. The paper published in 'Global Environmental Change' reveals a likelihood of the Chinese economy coming to a saturation in the demand for key materials (steel, cement, copper) rather soon in contrast to many current scenarios.
2) New macro-economic modelling capabilities - We could establish a new macro-economic model (CGE type) able to address questions of material supply and demand for China, other regions, and the world. We consider it the first CGE model with an extension into physical data for materials and a full account of the steel supply chain. We are grateful for the grant supporting those activities, although back then UCL was not considered a CGE expert group. Through hiring and collaboration with two Chinese colleagues we could close that gap. Therefore, we can now address the question of future steel markets and recycling. A first paper has been published in 'International Economics and Economic Policy', others can be expected to follow.
3) MoU & research capability - We have signed a MoU between UCL (Vice-Provost level) and SJTU that is helpful in driving further collaborations now that this grant is over. Examples include visiting researchers on both sides, a high-level joint publication (submission enquiry with Nature), joint proposals, and a planned dual MSc on the circular economy.

In the following we provide a list of our objectives (shortened version) and our responses.
O1. New indicators - SINCERE contributed significantly to a much better understanding on how indicators are being formulated and applied in China, strengths and weaknesses of current indicators, and potential new ones. Evidence for outcomes is done through one publication (JIE), another one being in the review process, and others addressing the issue. We can't say we have been able to establish a new one, while we are able to grasp the challenges involved in such an endeavor: significant differences in the contexts between China and EU, significant governance challenges within China.
O2. New quantitative tools based on multiscale modelling - Yes, see above (2).
O3. Understand drivers and barriers - SINCERE contributed significantly to a better understanding about barriers and drivers related to indicators (see above O1) and innovation systems e.g. of cement. Some learning outcomes have been more tacit related to specifics of the Chinese system (provinces - central government, maintaining established industries, policy inconsistencies).
O4. Understand historical influences - SINCERE has done econometric time series analysis with results on recycling markets, green patents, changing patterns of international trade. On the political economy see also the response on O3.
O5. Greater conceptual clarity - SINCERE has been a milestone in shaping the mutual understanding of key concepts on both sides, as evidenced through publications (some of which are yet to be accepted) and a special issue. We learned a lot about how current concepts fit into policy styles and discourses evolving over years, e.g. China needing to respond to urgent environmental pressures, while the EU tends to build on a long tradition of environmental policies.
O6. Collaborative working relationships - Excellent, see above (3). We appreciate the ability of Chinese researchers to publish papers in collaboration. Issues we consider difficult to accomplish are as follows: Chinese researchers have a larger incentive to stay in the UK compared with UK researchers visiting China. If so, projects need to support the bench fees that need to be paid in UK universities, and seek to provide more mobility incentives for our researchers. Yet we expect Chinese universities to become more attractive over the next years, with higher reputation and more international staff. Much of the evidence in comparative assessments done in Europe via interviews is hard to conduct in China, as surveys and interviews are less common. In a more general view, there is a challenging gap between research such as SINCERE and the work of think tanks and NGOs such as the Ellen MacArthur Foundation, SystemIQ and others, who can attract large funding based on impact expectations while universities need to focus on methodologies. Finding ways of how expected impacts and novel methodologies can be combined in a way that meets requirements for funding and academic career development is on our agenda for future collaborations.
Exploitation Route Our new model UCL ENGAGE (materials) has been acknowledged by the OECD, and our efforts are part of ongoing OECD work on the expected world demand for materials in 2060 and their work on future policies for a circular economy. We are also in contact with UNEP's International Resource Panel.
We would expect our work to be of relevance for the steel industry and are working on our communication with them. Their models however tend to be more technically oriented and we need to communicate advantages (and limitations) of a macro-economic approach.
There are indications of policy makers (European Commission/EU, Shanghai, UK) taking forward our findings, e.g. on indicators and policy coordination; yet we realise SINCERE is one out of some projects shaping such policies. As mentioned earlier, the European Commission has been using one of our papers as background document during their stakeholder mission related to a circular economy to China in Nov 2015, and the new MoU between China and the EU (7/2018) will bring forward more activities. We also had a final conference with Chatham House in Dec 2017 and 'Science Impact' has been disseminating our project too. Much will depend on how we continue our efforts, our collaboration and how our results are being published and communicated.
Sectors Agriculture, Food and Drink,Construction,Education,Electronics,Energy,Environment,Financial Services, and Management Consultancy,Government, Democracy and Justice,Manufacturing, including Industrial Biotechology,Transport,Other

URL https://www.ucl.ac.uk/sincere
 
Description Findings have been used as background information to the European Commission's circular economy mission to China in Nov 2016. The project has also strengthened UCL ISR's ties with partner institutions regarding research on the circular economy and the resource efficiency. In particular, this has led to the MoU between SJTU and UCL regarding a new dual MSc on the circular economy. Also, our collaborations with Chatham House was taken forward through new research funding proposals.
First Year Of Impact 2016
Sector Education,Government, Democracy and Justice
Impact Types Policy & public services

 
Description A working paper of SINCERE was circulated as background material prior to the European Commission's CE mission to China to all members of the delegation
Geographic Reach Europe 
Policy Influence Type Implementation circular/rapid advice/letter to e.g. Ministry of Health
 
Title Macro-economic model ENGAGE 
Description The ENGAGE-materials model and database were developed as part of the macroeconomic modelling efforts of the project with the aim of considering the economic and sectoral effects of potential policies of a circular economy and resource efficiency affecting materials and resources at the stages of extraction, production and recycling. The model comprises an advanced level of detail of the global steel supply chain from iron mining, to primary and secondary production and to the recycling of steel scrap. Furthermore, the dynamics of steel demand are captured by taking into account the effects of economic structural change and those of changes in the steel intensity-of-use by downstream sectors. 
Type Of Material Computer model/algorithm 
Year Produced 2017 
Provided To Others? Yes  
Impact The model has been used for preliminary work regarding steel production outlooks and steel recycling policies in China. Results have been presented on a number of occasions (GTAP 2017 Conference, SINCERE Final Conference, OECD-GTAP long-term baselines workshop) and a subset has already been included in a journal paper in July 2017 (10.1007/s10368-017-0385-3). The OECD Environment Directorate have also expressed interest in the modelling methods used for ENGAGE-materials and have proposed a secondment with the interest of aligning their CGE model specification (ENV-Linkages) with ENGAGE-materials. 
 
Description Establishing a dual MSc on the circular economy between UCL and SJTU 
Organisation Shanghai Jiao Tong University
Country China 
Sector Academic/University 
PI Contribution UCL and SJTU have signed a MoU about a broader collaboration beyond SINCERE. A new area to be addressed beyond research is a dual MSc on the circular economy. The MoU between the two universities was signed in Shanghai by Professor Zhen Huang, Vice President of SJTU, and Dame Nicola Brewer, Vice-Provost of UCL. The plan is to develop the dual MSc programme throughout 2018 and have a first intake of students in the academic year 2019/20. The collaboration is also extended for the existing UCL ISR MSc in Sustainable Resources through the introduction of a new optional Circular Economy teaching module. ISR has contributed expertise, especially on the existing MSc SRes, intellectual input, and staff.
Collaborator Contribution The partner GENG Yong has been particularly active in this partnership as he became Dean at SJTU. They have visited UCL four times during the last 12 months, including visits at vice-provost level.
Impact This is a multi-disciplinary collaboration comprising environmental science, engineering, economcs, policy analysis, modelling.
Start Year 2017
 
Description Macro-economic modelling collaboration 
Organisation Peking University
Country China 
Sector Academic/University 
PI Contribution A new macro-economic modelling collaboration with Peking University was facilitated by Professor Gen Yong. The aim of this joint work is to increase the level of detail regarding circular economy policies in China through the use of a China CGE model with a provincial disaggregation. The UCL ENGAGE-materials model would thus be complemented by the China model to explore the emissions impacts of steel recycling in China. The visit by Dr. Hancheng Dai from Peking University at UCL ISR in November 2017 enabled the alignment of the two models. The design and content of two papers was discussed with first joint model simulations in December 2017.
Collaborator Contribution The partner contributed with an advanced sectoral detail of the Chinese economy enabling an improved representation of material use for China in the global ENGAGE-materials model. Dr. Hancheng Dai also contributed to the definition of a baseline steel demand in China in a time horizon up to 2050.
Impact Global and national CGE modelling simulations, two journal papers to be produced by mid-2018.
Start Year 2017
 
Description Modelling Forum 
Organisation CIRED
Country Belgium 
Sector Charity/Non Profit 
PI Contribution Following a SINCERE project meeting we conducted a forum on 'Advances in the Modelling of Innovation and Finance in Macroeconomic Models' together with another project, Green.Win The meeting on 13th and 14th of October 2016 in Paris is targeted at understanding the current state of the art of incorporating endogenous technological change into top-down macroeconomic modelling tools, including equilibrium-based models such as GEM-E3 and econometric/disequilibrium models, as well as understanding and sharing the practical experiences and difficulties involved in implementing such innovation modelling. With several projects focussed on issues related to the area (GREEN-WIN, SINCERE, INNOPATHS, RIPPLES, CIRCLE) this meeting is a chance to learn from each other's practical experiences in an open environment, and thereby inform a number of model-based projects developing over the coming year(s). We organized the forum and contributed two inputs, one on resource efficiency, another one on CGE Perspectives on how to approach modelling innovation and finance.
Collaborator Contribution Other contributions came from JF Mercure, M. Grubb, Antoine Mandel, Leonidas Parroussos, Jean-Charles Hourcade
Impact Members of the OECD ENV macro-economic modelling team attended.
Start Year 2016
 
Description Project Journal Special Issue - International Economics and Economic Policy 
Organisation Shanghai Jiao Tong University
Department School of Environmental Science and Engineering
PI Contribution The special issue was edited jointly by Paul Welfens, Raimund Bleischwitz and Yong Geng.
Collaborator Contribution Prof. Dr. Welfens has contributed to the project, as Managing Editor of the journal International Economics and Economic Policy, in managing the publication of a special issue in July 2017. This special issue was entitled "Resource Efficiency, Circular Economy and Sustainability Dynamics in China and OECD Countries" and featured innovative contributions in the fields of resource efficiency, the circular economy, sustainability, and environmental economics - concerning topics such as recycling, eco-cement, energy-saving behaviors, renewable energy and emission trading systems.
Impact Journal Special Issue comprising eight articles.
Start Year 2017
 
Description Project Journal Special Issue - International Economics and Economic Policy 
Organisation University of Wuppertal
Country Germany 
Sector Academic/University 
PI Contribution The special issue was edited jointly by Paul Welfens, Raimund Bleischwitz and Yong Geng.
Collaborator Contribution Prof. Dr. Welfens has contributed to the project, as Managing Editor of the journal International Economics and Economic Policy, in managing the publication of a special issue in July 2017. This special issue was entitled "Resource Efficiency, Circular Economy and Sustainability Dynamics in China and OECD Countries" and featured innovative contributions in the fields of resource efficiency, the circular economy, sustainability, and environmental economics - concerning topics such as recycling, eco-cement, energy-saving behaviors, renewable energy and emission trading systems.
Impact Journal Special Issue comprising eight articles.
Start Year 2017
 
Description Chatham House Roundtable - Circular Economy in Europe and China 
Form Of Engagement Activity A formal working group, expert panel or dialogue
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact On 8 December 2017, partners from the SINCERE project attended a high-level roundtable event at Chatham House on circular economy in Europe and China. The event was organised by the Hoffmann Centre of Sustainable Resource Economy from Chatham House in collaboration with the SINCERE project.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2017
URL https://hoffmanncentre.chathamhouse.org/events/2017/12/the-circular-economy-and-resource-efficiency-...
 
Description GTAP Conference 2018 - Organised Session on the Circular Economy 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Study participants or study members
Results and Impact A special session has been arranged jointly by UCL ISR and the OECD for the GTAP 2018 Conference in Colombia on the current state of the art and future modelling possibilities for the Circular Economy. It will be chaired by Alvaro Calzadilla and a presentation will be given on UCL modelling efforts from Matthew Winning as well as presentations from the OECD and Chile
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2018
URL https://www.gtap.agecon.purdue.edu/events/conferences/2018/default.asp
 
Description Invited keynote Seoul, South Korea 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Policymakers/politicians
Results and Impact Invited keynote to the ASEIC Global Eco-Innovation Forum 2016, Seoul
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2016
URL http://www.aseic.org/center/forum/global_2016.do
 
Description Invited keynote Seville 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Industry/Business
Results and Impact I was invited keynote speaker at the INTERNATIONAL CONFERENCE
NOW, CIRCULAR ECONOMY, Seville, Spain, on March 16th and 17th 2016
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2016
URL http://www.acrplus.org/index.php/en/events/upcoming-events/event/269-international-conference-now-th...
 
Description Panel contribution National CSR Awards, London 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Industry/Business
Results and Impact I was invited panelist at the National CSR Awards, London 12 May 2016
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2016
URL https://nationalcsrawards.co.uk/csr-conference/
 
Description Policy panel on the circular economy at EAERE 
Form Of Engagement Activity A formal working group, expert panel or dialogue
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Other audiences
Results and Impact I organized a policy session at the Annual meeting of the European Association of Environmental and Resource Economists on 23 June 2016 in Zurich, entitled A Circular Economy in Europe: Relevance, Issues, and Policy Options. Speakers and contributions to the session:
• Prof. Dr. Raimund Bleischwitz, Deputy Director and Chair on sustainable global resources at the UCL Institute for Sustainable Resources, formerly member of the EU expert group on a systemic approach to eco-innovation and a circular economy, currently leads a collaboration project on the circular economy with Chinese partners. He will present findings on different circular economy concepts, the 'web of constraints' hindering firms to eco-innovate, and policy tools.
• Robbert Droop, Dutch Ministry for the Environment, leads the Dutch delegation e.g. at the EU Horizon 2020 programme on a circular economy and for the EU Environment Council. He will present findings and experience from the Dutch EU presidency in the 1st half of 2016 and give an outlook on expected changes (the usual disclaimer applies). Furthermore he will share insights from The Netherlands on the topic.
• Prof. Dr. Paul JJ Welfens is the president of the European Institute for International Economic Relations (EIIIW) at the University of Wuppertal and has the Jean Monnet Chair in European Integration and also a chair in Macroeconomics. He will emphasise the economics of recycling and green ICT as two pillars of a circular economy in Europe - the role of (green) ICT is much underestimated in the policy community, and international diffusion of best practice in recycling stands for a new challenge. Moreover, key insights from the EIIW-vita composite sustainability indicator will be presented in line with the OECD requirements on composite indicators.
• Prof. Roberto Zoboli, full professor of environmental economics at Catholic University of Milan, is leader of the work package on 'Sectoral integration and the green economy' of ETC/WMGE - the topic centre of the European Environment Agency on 'Waste and Materials in a Green Economy'. He is currently involved in the activities on circular economy of ETC/WMGE and the European Reference Model on Waste managed by EEA. He will present some emerging issues in the economic measurement and implications of a circular economy (e.g. net value added and employment creation) vis à vis its environmental implications. This critical role of integrated economic and environmental assessment for a European circular economy policy will be discussed also with reference to international aspects (e.g. trade).
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2016
URL http://www.eaere2016.ethz.ch
 
Description Presentation at OECD expert workshop 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Study participants or study members
Results and Impact Dr. Matthew Winning gave a presentation on the ENGAGE-materials modelling efforts regarding the long-term dynamics of the steel sector. The presentation was part of a special session on energy and environment modelling within a larger expert workshop jointly organised by the OECD and GTAP at the OECD Headquarters on "Shaping long-term baselines with CGE models".
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2018
 
Description SINCERE Final Conference 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact On 7 December 2018 the SINCERE project hosted its final conference. The conference brought together leading experts on Chinese and European dynamics, long-term trends, modelling perspectives and emerging eco-innovations.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2017
URL https://www.ucl.ac.uk/sincere/news/index/edit/Final-conference-proceedings
 
Description Seminar at Centre Cournot 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Study participants or study members
Results and Impact I gave a seminar speech on 25th May at the Centre Cournot in Paris, France, on "Jevons and the dynamics of industrialisations:
Lessons from the past and an outlook into the future"
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2016
URL http://www.centrecournot.org