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EASAC’s earlier comments on the circular economy from the perspectives of the natural and social sciences observed that new indicators are likely to be required for the circular economy and this has been confirmed by the European Commission decision to establish a set of reliable indicators. EASAC thus decided to conduct an analysis of indicators that may be appropriate for monitoring progress towards a circular economy. Indicators are critical for economic assessment at all scales—from the micro- (businesses) level to the macro- (regional and national) to global levels. As a result, selecting indicators has significant implications and care needs to be taken to ensure that the indicators are appropriate for the policy objectives
This report considers basic drivers for shifting from a linear to a circular economy and the demand for related indicators. Major priorities in the circular economy are the decoupling of resource use and environmental impact from economic activities; measurement of resource efficiency and waste reduction, and tracking material flows is thus a key component. However, such basic concepts do not capture the environmental impact of resources extraction and use, or the objective of more efficiently using goods, including repairing and reusing. The report reviews in detail the indicators recently proposed in different fields and assesses their relevance for the circular economy. The indicator sets considered include those from the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), Global Reporting Initiative, World Bank, Yale and Columbia Universities, Eurostat, Ellen MacArthur Foundation, European Union (EU) Resource Efficiency Scoreboard and European Innovation Partnership. Economy wide material flow analysis is given particular attention. In addition, the report notes that owing to the linkages between the circular economy, human well-being and sustainable development, the indicators for monitoring progress towards a more circular economy can be included in the wider debate on developing alternatives to gross domestic product (GDP), where the Commission’s circular economy indicators, ‘Beyond GDP’, sustainable development indicators and environmental pressure index actions are involved. Case studies are presented on indicators in the Chinese and Japanese circular economy initiatives.