Circular Cities at the Forefront: Insights from UrbanShift's Latin America Forum

Cities can play a major role in reducing waste, improving efficiency, and spurring sustainable economic transformations. Learn how the UrbanShift Latin America Forum elevated the idea of a circular economy for cities.

As the world continues to shape the framework of the much-anticipated “Global Plastic Treaty”, the urgency to address the plastic pollution crisis has never been more pronounced. Spearheaded by the Intergovernmental Negotiating Committee (INC) on Plastic Pollution, this international legally binding instrument has been in the making since 2022, aiming to complete its work by the end of 2024. As we have seen with the Paris Agreement and other Multilateral Environmental Agreements, the perspectives of local governments must be taken into account while national governments are negotiating, and those considerations should be reflected into final agreements and treaties.

That’s why regional initiatives like the UrbanShift Latin America Forum in Belém, Brazil are showcasing how local actions and policy-making can align with global efforts to foster sustainable urban development.

Held from 16 to 19 April, the Forum showcased how local initiatives could directly contribute to global sustainability goals. By focusing on innovative urban strategies, including the integration of circular economy measures, cities can dramatically reduce their plastic waste footprint. This is especially pertinent as cities explore new approaches to managing the vast amounts of waste they generate, transitioning from traditional disposal and recycling methods to more holistic, systemic solutions that prevent waste generation in the first place.

With cities consuming over two-thirds of global energy and producing the majority of greenhouse emissions and waste, the shift to a circular economy is crucial. This approach not only challenges outdated economic models but also promises sustainable and equitable growth as urban populations are projected to rise to 68% by 2050 – Dr. Magash Naidoo, ICLEI’s Head of Circular Development.

In particular, Latin American cities are rapidly urbanizing, which presents unique opportunities to pioneer these sustainable practices. These challenges were thoroughly explored during the UrbanShift City Academy, where ICLEI led a two-day in-person training tailored to Latin American local leaders.

magash naidoo speaking during the urbanshift forum
Dr. Magash Naidoo, head of ICLEI Circulars, speaking during the Forum.

The training provided participants with a foundational understanding of the principles of the circular economy, particularly how these can be applied within urban environments. The training revolved around three main areas:

  1. Foundation and theory: It introduced the concept of a circular economy, contrasting it with traditional linear economic models, and delving into ICLEI’s Circular City Actions Framework. The course detailed how these frameworks can guide urban settings towards achieving sustainability goals, emphasizing a systemic shift from the “take-make-waste” model to one that is regenerative by design​.
  2. Circular economy in practice: The practical application of circular economy principles was then explored through case studies across vital sectors such as food, construction, and waste management. The event presented a variety of real-world examples from different cities, showcasing successful implementation and the tangible benefits of adopting circular economy practices – crucial for local leaders to truly understand how theory translates into action within the urban context​.
  3. Policy and governance: Examining the role of local and regional governments, the training reviewed available policy tools that support the implementation of circular economy strategies. It discussed enabling factors such as legal frameworks, technical capacity, and political commitment, which are essential for fostering a supportive environment for circular initiatives.

illustration of the circular economy framework

The online City Academy course on circular economy is designed to be highly interactive and engaging. It incorporates a variety of learning methods including keynote speeches, panel discussions, and hands-on exercises. This structure ensures active participation and facilitates a comprehensive understanding of the material covered. The course is self-paced, allowing participants to engage with the content flexibly. Explore and enroll in the course here

maria alonso martinez of ICLEI presenting during the Forum
María Alonso Martínez, junior officer in ICLEI's Circulars program, presenting during the Forum.

UrbanShift regional Forums play a crucial role in fostering regional cooperation and facilitating the exchange of sustainable practices among cities. These Forums are designed for city leaders to gain insights from sector experts and visionaries, connect with a diverse community of professionals, and build capacity through actionable tools and strategies.