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African forum hails ‘circular economy’ climate solutions

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MOMBASA, Kenya — Reducing waste while boosting recycling and reuse, known as the “circular economy,” will be essential to stem the loss of nature by meeting growing demand with fewer resources and will make communities more resilient to climate change by encouraging more sustainable practices on the African continent, the organizers of the World Circular Economy Forum said on Wednesday.

The conference, which brings together climate and economic experts as well as businesses and think tanks, is being held in the Rwandan capital, Kigali, the first ever in the South.

“It is much easier to adapt now than the costs we will incur if we wait,” Wanjira Maathai of the World Resources Institute told the forum. As climate change makes weather more extreme, damage costs increase. “It is time to consider it (the circular economy) as a driver for Africa’s development.”

The three-day forum, which ends Thursday, encourages a shift to an economic model that promotes less material consumption and promotes so-called regenerative farming practices like crop rotation or using less chemical fertilizers or pesticides. The talks will also push nature-based solutions to boost natural resources such as rewilding. Many on the continent are already exploring new ways to use waste.

At the opening ceremony on Tuesday, Rwandan Environment Minister Jeanne d’Arc Mujawamariya said the continent should galvanize the local knowledge of its youth, innovators and entrepreneurs to accelerate the continent’s development progress “without repeat the same mistakes made by industrialized nations”.

The challenge for developing countries is to improve living standards without using fossil fuels like northern countries, say climate experts. Many on the continent have already sought to reduce waste and boost recycling as a way to improve living standards.

Mtamu Kililo, a Kenyan architect and member of the African Circular Economy Network, explains that he is using new construction materials made from agricultural waste, such as bagasse or sugar cane waste, coconuts and rice husks for high quality soundproofing and insulation.

“Changing perceptions is the major challenge we face. But we are making progress because people are starting to see the qualities of our product and also want to reduce waste,” Kililo said.

Other companies are using the same model for agriculture, textiles and plastics, but greater investment and a more concerted effort by governments to transition to this type of economy are needed for these ideas to take off, said many forum participants.

Investing in the circular economy “is a real investment in climate action and environmental conservation,” Jyrki Katainen, chairman of Finnish innovation fund Sitra, told The Associated Press.

Finding new uses for waste “will strengthen government and business responses to the key challenges of our time of sustainable economic development, climate change and environmental preservation,” said Adriana Zacarias Farah of the United Nations Program United for the Environment.

The Associated Press’s climate and environmental coverage receives support from several private foundations. Learn more about AP’s climate initiative here. The AP is solely responsible for all content.

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