Empty Amsterdam during confinement by coronavirus (Image by Peter Noordendorf)
As soon as the confinement imposed by the pandemic is over, in Amsterdam the model called “donut” or double circle has begun to be adopted, to try to repair the situation in which the economy has remained, but based on a different criterion, based on the balance with the planet.
While much effort is still being made in the Dutch capital to keep citizens safe, city officials and British economist Kate Raworth, a fellow at the Institute for Environmental Change at Oxford University, have been designing how the city can rebuild in a post-Covid-19 context.
They have considered that the current crisis is mainly due to the global attachment to economic growth and to the laws of supply and demand typical of neoliberalism, and proposed for this new model devised by the economist Raworth a guide of what it can be for countries, cities and people thrive in balance with the planetary ecosystem.
It is based on Raworth’s best-selling book of 2017: “Donut Economics: Seven Ways to Think Like a 21st Century Economist,” which has been read by countless people and described by The Guardian columnist George Monbiot as a “Innovative alternative to the growth economy”.
The outer ring of the two concentric circles represents the ecological limit drawn by scientists of the planetary system. It marks the limits that humanity should not exceed in order to avoid damaging the climate, soils, oceans, the ozone layer, fresh water and abundant biodiversity.
Located between the two rings is the area where the needs of everyone and also the planet are met. The inner ring is defined by the individual survival and well-being needs for each human being (food, housing, health, education, work, information, displacement, communities, etc.)
The model has been formally adopted by the municipality of Amsterdam as an experiment to define public policy decisions, being the first city in the world to do so.
“I think it can help us overcome the effects of the crisis,” said Deputy Mayor of Amsterdam Marieke van Doorninck, who participated with Kate Raworth in an interview with The Guardian via Skype prior to launch. “It may seem strange that we are talking about the post-coronavirus period, but as a government we have to plan … It is to help us not resort to easy mechanisms.”
“When we have to worry about climate, health, jobs, housing and care, and communities, is there a theoretical framework that can help us with all of that?” Raworth says. “Yes there is, and it’s ready to roll out.”
The central premise is simple: the objective of economic activity should be to satisfy the basic needs of all the inhabitants of the city, but within the means that the planet allows. Kate Raworth reduced the model to provide Amsterdam with a “city portrait” that will show where basic needs are not being met and where “allowed planetary limits” are exceeded. It shows how the problems are interrelated.
For example, residents’ housing needs are increasingly unmet, as nearly 20% of city tenants cannot meet their basic needs after paying rent, and only 12% of the approximately 60,000 applicants of social housing, they are successful.
One solution could be to build more homes, but Raworth’s model for Amsterdam highlights that the area’s carbon dioxide emissions are already 31% above 1990 levels. Imports of construction materials, food and consumer products from outside the city limits contribute 62% of those total emissions.
Van Doorninck says the city will need to regulate this to ensure that builders use recycled and bio-based materials, as much as possible, like wood. But the model’s approach also encourages policy makers to change their views.
“The fact that the houses are too expensive is not only due to the fact that very few are built. There is a lot of capital flowing around the world trying to find an investment, and right now the real estate sector is considered the best way to invest, which drives up prices, “he says.
“This new model does not give us the answers, but rather gives us a way of looking, so that we do not continue moving with the same structures as before.”
The port of Amsterdam is the largest importer of cocoa beans in the world, mainly from West Africa, where the workforce is usually very exploitative.
As an independent private company, these products could be rejected and suffer the economic impact, but at the same time almost one in five households in Amsterdam is entitled to social benefits due to their low income and savings.
Van Doorninck says the port is studying how to move from fossil fuel dependency as part of the new vision for the city, and hopes this naturally evolves into a broader debate on other pressing dilemmas than the Kate Raworth model. has brought to the fore.
“Give space to talk about whether you want to be the place where the products produced by child labor or other forms of labor exploitation are stored,” he says.
The strategy aims to significantly reduce the use of new raw materials and materials and thus contribute to a sustainable city. In the coming years, the city will map the various material flows, from entry to processing, to conserve valuable raw materials. The goal is to halve the use of new raw materials by 2030 and achieve a fully circular economy by 2050.
The Councilor for Sustainability, Marieke van Doorninck, says: “We currently live in an economic system that incinerates valuable products and raw materials as ‘waste’. Big mistake, given the shortage of raw materials in the world. It is not what we want: nobody wants to live in a disposable society. We have to see our economy in a different way: in the way we consume, produce and process. By starting to process high-quality materials and raw materials, we can prevent them from ending up as waste. We also have to share more products and repair them, if only part of it breaks. In this way, we can preserve the raw materials we so badly need and reduce energy consumption. ”
The strategy implemented in Amsterdam contains a large number of measures that companies, the municipality and also citizens will have to face in the next five years. Citizens will treat their waste differently and waste less food, construction companies will build with sustainable materials, and the municipality will buy as many used products as possible.
After the coronavirus, three quarters of the citizens of Amsterdam are willing to buy fewer new items for the benefit of the environment. To facilitate different and lower consumption, the municipality will work with companies, local initiatives and knowledge institutions to establish a sub-platform infrastructure, second-hand stores, online markets and repair services that works well and is accessible in a three year term.
Councilwoman Van Doorninck concludes by saying, “To ensure that the repair and reuse of equipment really pays off, we have asked the government to change the labor tax to the raw materials and energy tax. This will make repairs cheaper, while buying a new product will be more expensive. It will also create more jobs in the manufacturing industry. ”
The Kate Raworth model experiment has been planned for five years, to be evaluated in late 2025. In the Netherlands, an average of 41 kilos of food per person per year is thrown in the trash. To combat waste, the municipality is already beginning to work with policies directed at specific sectors such as hotels. It also tries to discourage citizens from wasting food, and the municipality is committed to bringing the surplus to the people of Amsterdam who need it most. By 2030, this should produce 50% less food waste.
During the production of new construction materials, such as concrete, a lot of CO2 is released. Furthermore, materials cannot always be reused when a building needs to be renovated or demolished. So the city is going to reinforce sustainability requirements in tenders. The city currently works with companies and institutions on more than 200 projects that contribute to a circular economy. For example, the municipality is already conducting a pilot project with the paint industry and used goods stores to collect the discarded latex paint and make it suitable for sale.
The municipal organization itself wants to reduce its consumption by 20% by 2030 and only resort to circular purchases. The municipality will be the first to look at consumables and the arrangement of municipal buildings. In this way, the municipality wants to buy fewer new products focusing on use, rather than ownership. “The changes start at home,” says Council Member Van Doorninck.
Translated from Spanish by Lulith Van