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Circular economy community gathers to drive circular action at first CCRI General Conference

Published on 05.12.2023

The Circular Cities and Regions Initiative (CCRI) held its first General Conference in Brussels on 8 November 2023. Entitled “From vision to reality: Cities and regions drive forward Europe’s circular transition”, the event gathered around 200 on-site and 400 online circular economy stakeholders.

Countries: Belgium, EU-27, Norway, United Kingdom

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The first conference of the EU’s flagship circular economy initiative brought together stakeholders such as the CCRI Pilots, Fellows, Projects and Associated Partners, the European Commission, and wider members of the circular economy community. Those in attendance included 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 and shared concrete examples of how cities and regions are already boosting the circular transition, stimulating social innovation, and paving the way for Europe's circular transition.

An exhibition area and networking breaks also provided opportunities for attendees to present their initiatives and exchange ideas with other stakeholders.

“Local and regional governments will play a pivotal role” 

Opening the event, Pavel Misiga, Head of Unit in the European Commission’s Directorate-General for Research and Innovation (DG R&I), recapped the reasons behind the conception of the initiative: 

“The benefits of a circular economy must be spread across the value chains, so all actors are motivated to join,” he said. “This is difficult to achieve. We need agents who can facilitate this collaboration between actors, including companies, public institutions and consumers.”

“We want to recognise the potential to implement projects first as pilots, and later on a broader scale,” he continued. “Clearly, local and regional governments will play a pivotal role in local and regional transformations.”

Janez Potočnik, Co-chair of the International Regional Panel and CCRI Advisory Board Member, emphasised the need to move from a sectoral approach to a systemic one. Cities, he said, are well placed to lead the transition as they are the areas where the key problems – and therefore solutions – are concentrated. 

“The CCRI is an important pioneering effort in this circular economy landscape,” he said. “The future will be green or there will be no future”. 

Lamia Kamal-Chaoui, Director of the Centre for Entrepreneurship, SMEs, Regions and Cities  of the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), a strategic partner for the CCRI, said: 

“I truly believe this is a great initiative. In recent years we’ve seen the circular economy go from concept to action. [..] I hope we can work with all of you to join forces to work together. We want to provide fair support to cities and regions.”

Bart Somers, Vice Minister-President of the Government of Flanders (Belgian EU presidency) emphasised the need to be more inclusive and involve much more citizens in the transition.

“Without money, projects go nowhere” 

Lucie Blondel of the European Commission (DG R&I) presented the CCRI’s activities as a new experimental support scheme, using the traditional EU R&I funding programme, Horizon Europe, in a less traditional way to boost the circular economy transition in EU cities and regions. She highlighted the systemic approach and solution-oriented focus of the scheme. 

A session on the benefits of the circular economy then featured speakers from the Ellen MacArthur Foundation (EMF) and the European Environment Agency – two members of the CCRI Advisory Board – and CCRI Pilot Flanders. Jocelyn Blériot of the EMF stressed the need to move from piloting to replication and upscaling. Elmar Willems of the Flanders Region emphasised that “stories go around better than indicators”.

The next session focused on innovative Circular Systemic Solutions, with speakers representing CCRI Pilots, Fellows and Projects. It delved into several interesting examples, including a pilot scheme focusing on disposable cups and takeaway packaging in Aarhus, a systemic approach to food and plastic waste in Murcia, and a cross-sectoral, cross-regional solution to turn end-of-life polyurethane foams into new, high-performance plastics.

Further sessions focused on mobilising key stakeholders and transforming governance models, coupling circularity with climate action to support the green transition, and financing Circular Systemic Solutions.

In the session on mobilising stakeholders, Oriana Romano of the OECD presented the Programme on the Circular Economy in Cities and Regions and its synthesis report, which surveyed 51 cities and regions. In the majority of cases stakeholders are consulted on circular economy initiatives, but only in few cases does this involve co-decision and co-production. Ms Romano emphasised the fundamental nature of stakeholder engagement to avoid solely top-down decision making.

“Without money, projects go nowhere,” said Philipp Horn of the European Investment Bank (EIB) in the session on financing. The EIB is a strategic partner for the CCRI. As the EU’s public bank, it provides various financing options for circular projects, including investment costs, intermediary loans and equity funds, as well as dedicated advisory services for cities – in particular through its Circular City Centre

Over the past five years, the EIB has financed €3.4 billion into 118 circular projects – a large sum, but nonetheless only 1.5% of annual EIB lending. “We want to do more, but lack similar projects to finance,” Mr Horn said, encouraging projects to contact the EIB Circular City Centre to discuss their projects.

“We are a community of people who want to work together to achieve a common objective”

Closing the conference, Mr Misiga was realistic about the challenges still to come on Europe's circular economy journey.

“We need to find a way to change the institutional setup so costs and benefits are distributed so as to incentivise actors along the market value chain to make changes,” he noted. “It is important to engage all stakeholders, but is it not easy.”

Mr Misiga mentioned the importance of data – a common theme of the discussions – and outlined the Commission’s commitment to establish fewer, clearer indicators to measure progress, which can help financiers and policymakers alike. He also noted the importance of citizens, who must be involved in the circular transition in local communities.

Addressing Europe’s largest community of leading circular economy practitioners, he said: “I feel like we are a community of people who want to work together to achieve a common objective. We hope this will help us achieve collaboration between cities, supporting organisations, and together exchange our knowledge and experience.” 

Following the main conference on 8 November, CCRI stakeholders were invited to attend the 2nd CCRI Coordination and Support Workshop on 9 November, where they had the chance to take part in a matchmaking experiment, through which over 45 matches were made between CCRI stakeholders.

If you missed the conference or wish to watch back any sessions, you can find the recording on the event website. You can also find the presentations and photos from the event.

To stay informed about future CCRI events and activities, please keep an eye on the CCRI website and subscribe to our newsletter.


Type of territories involved

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

large metropolitan area >1.5 million, metropolitan area 1.5 million-500 000

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