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UK to lead global sustainability efforts with first UN-backed centre for circular economy research

06 March 2024

The UK is supporting global efforts to transition to a greener future, supported by the United Nations.

(Image: Shutterstock)
(Image: Shutterstock)

The UK will establish the world’s first United Nations-backed International Centre of Excellence on Sustainable Resource Management in the Circular Economy, Resources Minister Robbie Moore has announced.

A circular economy is one in which resources are kept in use for as long as possible, rather than being taken from the earth, used once and disposed of in landfill.

The centre will develop sustainable approaches to the circular economy and resource efficiency to enable carbon reduction and the transition to a greener future. 

The UK will help countries across the world to maximise the environmental and economic opportunities the circular economy offers.

Opening formally in April 2024, the centre will comprise five institutions: University College London (UCL), University of Exeter, Brunel University London, Swansea University, and the British Geological Survey.

Co-ordinated by a Government-funded UNECE research manager based in Geneva, this coalition will leverage their expertise to explore circularity in areas such as metals, construction and critical minerals to develop effective data, technological innovation, finance models and policy. 

The five participating institutions have together contributed £1.85 million to fund the centre’s technical activities.
“This is real recognition of the UK’s global leadership in sustainable resource management and testament to Britain’s world-leading academic expertise,” said Resources Minister Robbie Moore.

“We are delighted to host this centre, enabling our cutting-edge UK academics to develop the tools and research that will help countries across the world seize the opportunities of the circular economy, leading the way in the transition to a greener future.”

UNECE Executive Secretary Tatiana Molcean added: “Making the use of our resources more sustainable and moving towards a circular economy is fundamental to sustainable development and climate action.

“Partnerships mobilising international expertise play an important role in UN cooperation to develop and share best practices. I welcome the establishment of this new Centre of Excellence, with its focus on circularity of metals, construction and critical raw materials.”

The centre will also draw heavily on the success of several of the partner institutions in the National Interdisciplinary Circular Economy Research (NICER) research and development programme, a four-year £30 million investment established by the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs’ chief scientist in 2019 under the UK Government’s Strategic Priorities Fund.

In July 2023, the UK Government announced new plans setting out its long-term aim to use fewer new resources, drive up the repair and reuse of existing materials and increase recycling. 

The programme – Maximising Resources, Minimising Waste – brings together a range of measures backed by government funding which will help to keep products and materials in circulation for as long as possible and at their highest value, including through increasing reuse, repair and remanufacture, helping to grow the economy and boost employment.

Today’s announcement will help drive the programme forward and contribute to the UK’s world-leading efforts to protect the environment and improve its use of resources.

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