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Type: News article

The Circular Cities and Regions Initiative: Two years on

Published on 20.02.2024

As we start a new year, it is time for our annual look at the progress and achievements of the Circular Cities and Regions Initiative (CCRI). In its second year, the Initiative and its stakeholders have continued working tirelessly to implement the European Green Deal’s objective to make the circular economy work for people, regions and cities.

In this article, we take a look at some of the CCRI’s key achievements in 2023 and take stock of progress on the journey towards a circular economy. 

Countries: EU-27

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The CCRI supports cities and regions in putting their circular ambitions into action

The CCRI Coordination and Support Office is providing direct, tailored support and guidance to 12 Pilots, helping these European cities and regions to identify and implement circular solutions, and thereby showing the way forward.

Each Pilot has now established a clear roadmap for the demonstration of their circular solutions, setting out the right actions and milestones to make them a reality. 

The Initiative has offered tailored assistance, for example by providing insights into EU policy and legislation to help set and monitor goals, and by helping to identify relevant opportunities for funding, advisory support or project development assistance. 

This support is built on the principle at the heart of the Initiative: that cities and regions are fundamental to leading the transition, as they are great laboratories and spaces for experimentation, innovation and the creation of circular ecosystems.

In addition, 50+ cities and regions are benefiting from tailored assistance through their involvement in the CCRI Projects and through support being provided by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD).

With the CCRI’s support, Pilots are moving from theory into practice and making impressive progress in accelerating their circular transition. Their experiences will provide opportunities for other cities and regions across Europe to follow suit, replicating or scaling approaches and solutions appropriate to their context.

Thematic groups and workshops enable matchmaking and knowledge sharing

The CCRI has also provided various knowledge-exchange, networking and matchmaking opportunities, mostly through its four Thematic Working Groups

These groups help practitioners in cities and regions to connect and synergise their local efforts while sharing ideas, challenges and best practices with each other on key themes: Circular Bioeconomy, Circular Industries and Industrial symbiosis, Circular Construction and Buildings, and Circular Resource Management. 

These groups, made up of CCRI stakeholders, met each twice in 2023. Members established focus areas for their work, based on key challenges, and identified the support they need to achieve their aims.

Identifying these needs has led to widespread matchmaking within the CCRI community. Many potential matches were identified in the groups’ meetings and at the second CCRI Coordination and Support Workshop. This took place in Brussels in November 2023 and featured the CCRI’s first dedicated matchmaking experiment, which led to over 100 matches between stakeholders.

In this way, the Initiative has been helping cities and regions to work together and match with those with shared goals or complementary expertise. Just one example involves a city and region that partnered up to collaborate on a proposal for one of Horizon Europe’s circular economy calls.  

CCRI Projects and Associated Partners providing valuable additional support to amplify impact and reach

The CCRI Projects – which include nine demonstration projects and seven project development assistance projects – have played a key role in the progress of the Initiative this year. These research and innovation projects, funded by Horizon 2020 and Horizon Europe, have supported around 50 cities and regions to demonstrate their circular solutions.

To date, around EUR 140 million has been allocated to the demonstration, deployment and upscaling of circular systemic solutions under the Horizon 2020 and Horizon Europe funding programmes.  

The transition to a circular economy can only happen through true collaboration among all stakeholders. The Initiative’s Associated Partners, such as the Ellen MacArthur Foundation, Circle Economy and the Cariplo Foundation, have continued to help spread knowledge, foster synergies, and support the CCRI Pilots, Fellows and others, for example by contributing to workshops on specific topics.

Through a strategic partnership between the OECD and the European Commission, 10 CCRI Fellows have been selected to receive support from the OECD. This support will help these cities and regions to improve their circular strategies and programmes, focusing in particular on governance. The European Investment Bank, another strategic partner, has been focusing its support on financing and innovative business models, including through its Circular City Centre (C3), which is going to be further deployed in early 2024.

These partnerships have helped boost the Initiative’s support, particularly in the areas of governance and financing: two key challenges for cities and regions aiming to accelerate their circular transition.

2023 also saw the CCRI begin cooperating with other EU initiatives, such as Hubs4Circularity, the Circular Cities Declaration (ICLEI), and the Committee of the Regions’ Green Deal Going Local. Going forward, the Green Assist initiative will be providing advisory support to CCRI stakeholders on their circular journeys. Last year, the CCRI also had the pleasure of participating in large-scale EU events, including European Cities and Regions Week and the World Circular Economy Forum in Helsinki. Some of these events were organised by Associated Partners, including the OECD Roundtable in Tallinn and the Ellen MacArthur Foundation Summit in London (June 2023).

An ever-growing circular community and source of knowledge 

An important milestone this year was the organisation of the CCRI’s first General Conference, which brought together nearly 200 representatives of the European circular economy community in person in Brussels and almost 400 online. 

The biggest gathering of its kind to date, the conference gathered CCRI stakeholders, the European Commission, and representatives of business, industry, academia, research, associations and non-governmental organisations.

Through various sessions, it provided a forum to discover opportunities to scale-up circular solutions. It shared inspiring examples of how cities and regions are stimulating social innovation and paving the way for the transition. It also provided opportunities to exchange and network.

The Initiative also organised four webinars in 2023, providing hundreds of attendees with helpful information on the topics of Horizon Europe calls, the funding landscape, public procurement, and monitoring.

As the EU’s flagship initiative on circular economy, the CCRI has built up a vast a hub of circular economy knowledge as well as a large, active community of practitioners. The CCRI LinkedIn page now includes over 2 000 followers, demonstrating the rapid growth of the community over its relatively short lifespan.

Useful support materials for the circular community continue to be provided on the CCRI website, which had 200 new items added to it in 2023. These materials range from papers, reports and webinars to circular projects and information about legislation, funding and financing. 

In 2023, the CCRI also held its first to Multi-Stakeholder Dialogues, which have helped deepen the understanding of research and innovation gaps hindering the implementation of a circular economy at local and regional levels. 

The first, in June, focused on governance aspects, and the second, in November, focused on construction, buildings and re-use platforms for construction materials. Findings will feed into an upcoming report on research and innovation gaps, helping to guide future programming.

More unique opportunities to come in 2024

So, what’s in store for this year? 

With a mix of workshops and webinars, the CCRI will continue offering a space for in-depth knowledge sharing, but also for reflection exercises, questions, and peer-to-peer exchange. In 2024, the CCRI will continue diversifying the support activities offered to its community, in terms of both theme and format.

A new series of Multi-Stakeholder Dialogues will offer unique opportunities for the CCRI community to share views on research and innovation needs. They will address various circular economy sectors and value chains, including construction, plastics and electronics, as well as textiles. Stakeholders can express interest in participating via this call. These dialogues will provide insights for the 2025-2027 Horizon Europe work programme, and future circular economy initiatives of the European Commission. 

Other highlights of this year’s agenda will include the further deployment of the European Investment Bank’s C3, and the launch of new OECD reports, focusing on governance conditions for accelerating the transition in selected CCRI Fellows.

2024 will also bring some novelties – such as the launch of a new Mentoring Programme, and the set-up of Communities of Practice – stay tuned!

As we move into the third year of the Initiative, the CCRI would like to thank all members of the community for their continued support and efforts to make the circular economy a reality across Europe’s cities and regions. Despite the great progress made in 2023, there remains a long way to go. The CCRI will continue to support practitioners to face the challenges on this journey.

Onwards and upwards in 2024!

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built environment, CEAP2 key product value chain

including bio-based economy

Type of territories involved

large 500 000-200 000, medium 200 000-50 000, and small cities 50 000-5 000

predominantly urban regions, intermediate and predominantly rural regions, refer to TERCET typology NUTS 3 region