How can the energy transition and the challenge to meet the Paris Agreement, be seen as an opportunity for Rotterdam to become circular?

From 22nd until 27th of October 2017 the third Living University of the Blue Economy took place in BlueCity010 Rotterdam. As part of this event a break-out session, organized by DRIFT for transition, Erasmus University Rotterdam, explored how the energy-circularity bond can be materialized in the city’s built environment. To get the session started, David Dooghe presented three scenarios for a circular Rotterdam, based on the Research Urban Circular Economy. In three rounds the participants were challenged to work with these scenarios and come up with tactical solutions and coalitions. The outcome of the workshop will be used in the strategic agenda of the city.


The challenge(s)

How can the energy transition and the challenge to meet the Paris Agreement, be seen as an opportunity for Rotterdam to become circular? Currently, the agendas for the transition towards the circular economy and the transition towards renewable energy are mainly connected at an abstract and conceptual level. Nevertheless, many recognize the urgency. The energy transition is sometimes framed as an important aspect of the circular economy; while at the same time biofuels and energy from waste insinuators hinder high-quality material cycles.

In the coming years cities like Rotterdam are facing challenges but also opportunities in connecting the circular economy to the energy transition. Challenges regarding the large-scale transformation in the built environment are: 100.000 homes must be made energy-neutral, thousands of kilometres of infrastructure will require upgrades, and fossil fuelled mobility needs to become electric. These challenges offer the opportunity to work on circular buildings, infrastructure and transport in Rotterdam.

If circular alternatives for these challenges are not selected, millions – or even billions – will be invested in imports of critical raw materials and high on embedded energy. This will have a reverse effect on sustainability gains in terms of indirect CO2 reduction.



scenario: Sustainability as a lifestyle


Urban Circular Economy scenarios

In practice, the three Urban Circular Economy scenarios will coexist, but they can be steered. Asking the participants which of the three scenarios they found most desirable for Rotterdam, resulted in the following list:
1. Sustainability as a lifestyle
2. Business almost as usual
3. Sustainability as pocket money

Surprisingly, in the research by David Dooghe and Bureau Boris, 'Sustainability as pocket money' emerged as the scenario that best fits the entrepreneurial culture of the people of Rotterdam and the emerging circular initiatives in Rotterdam. This shows that working with these scenarios helps to make choices explicitly and to have a discussion about the future of the circular economy.

The session resulted in the following recommendations to the municipality in the context of Paris objectives:
- Think carefully about the pros and cons of the different scenarios and indicate a direction.
- The entrepreneurial side of the 'sustainability as pocket money' scenario helps to stimulate the intrinsic motivation among the people of Rotterdam.
- Organize more of this type of sessions and use working with scenarios to bring ideas from society.
- Invest in training courses for entrepreneurs to get the needed knowledge in the field of the energy transition and the circular economy and by doing so accelerate the transition.