The circular economy and waste to energy. A concise contemplation.

I am in Wuhan 2 1/2 days this week, where I am pleased to be engaging in three of my favourites: a class on environmental law, at Wuhan University’s unparalleled Research Institute of Environmental Law; a session on best practices for PhD research at same; and a conference presentation on conflict of laws at the solidly A+++ ‘Global Forum’ of the Chinese Society of Private International Law and Wuhan University’s Institute of International Law.

Anyways, on my way I inter alia wrote following intro to a volume on Waste to Energy, edited by Harry Post. I thought would share.

The European Union purports to be moving towards a Circular Economy (CE). If recent experience in environmental and energy law is anything to go by, the rest of the world will look with interest to its progress. It is fashionable to say that in the CE ‘waste’ will no longer exist. This is however not relevant beyond semantics. What really matters is how the EU and others after or before it, create the economic and regulatory environment that enables the innovation which a CE requires.

Regulatory circles have ample sympathy for business implementing and bringing to market the many exciting ideas which engineers continue to develop. At the same time one must not be blind to the excess which unchecked engineering imagination does have on society, in all pillars of sustainable development: social, economic and environmental. We must not compromise on a robust regulatory framework which looks after what public health and environmental protection require: two Late Lessons from Early Warnings reports tell us that we would do so at our own peril. However we do have to question continuously whether our existing laws are best practice in reaching that desired outcome. It would be a particular affront if innovative products and services that truly may boost environmental protection, were not to be rolled-out because of anxiety over their legal status.

In an innovative environment, legal certainty is an important driver for success. Lack of clarity over the legal framework and /or the regulators’ implementation of same, leads industry either to seek out and concentrate development on those States with lax or flexible regulators only; or to stick to old and trusted products.

The European Union is particularly suited to providing that clarity. On the scientific front, by investing in research and development, especially at SME and specialised spin-offs level. On the regulatory front, it would do well to work out a regime which enables innovators to query enforcement agencies about the legality of a new product or service line without the fear of subsequently being disciplined for it.

This volume is a scholarly effort to assist with both strands of the exercise. It is to be much commended for that effort and I for one am sure both industry and legal scholars will find its content encouraging.

Geert.

 

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