Brazilian circular cities: a sustainable city model for the future

Brazilian circular cities: a sustainable city model for the future


In today’s world, the most important territory is the city. Its development is the result of a long process of political, social, cultural, economic and historical construction. According to the World Urbanization Prospects report, currently 3.9 billion people, 54% of the world population, live in urban areas and by 2050, this number is expected to rise to 66% of the world population.

In this scenario, cities face enormous challenges that require us to rethink the complex changes necessary to achieve sustainable development.

In May 2022, the Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (ECLAC), the Embassy of Italy, the Embassy of the United Kingdom, and Enel organized the first event in the framework of the Declaration of Circular Cities of Latin America and the Caribbean and called eight cities to a joint commitment in the region.

Brazil joined the Declaration later when the cities associated with ICLEI (the World Association of Local Governments for Sustainability) were invited, resulting in the adhesion and signature in 2023 of the Brazilian cities of Santo André, São Caetano do Sul (SP), Rio de Janeiro (RJ), Maricá (RJ) and Curitiba (PR).

To begin with, a working group was established to define the lines of action in which the main departments of the administrations of the municipalities and autonomous governments will participate, and today an analysis of the progress of the cities in the transition to the circular economy is being carried out, considering the potential of the productive sectors, development plans, regulations, metrics and new business models, among others. As the next step, each signatory city will be able to convene all sectors to move forward together, identifying synergies to accelerate the transition.

Here are some of the initiatives of the five Brazilian cities that have joined the Declaration of Circular Cities:

São Caetano do Sul (SP) - It has one of the best HDI (Human Development Index) values in Brazil, with investments in several essential areas such as Health, Education, Safety, Social Assistance and Inclusion, all connected to the UN Agenda 2030 and the fulfillment of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). In terms of "Quality of Life", it should be noted that all the city's inhabitants have access to electricity and to collected and treated water. In addition, 100% of wastewater is collected and treated.

Santo André (SP) - The Santo André 500 Years program includes strategies to fulfill the commitment to the Global Agenda. Among these, the development of the Municipal Plan to Combat Climate Change stands out, with the completion of the Greenhouse Gas (GHG) Inventory. Moreover, the actions developed in the municipality were highlighted by CAF (Andean Development Corporation - Development Bank of Latin America) in the publication "International Guide to Sustainable Cities", a document prepared by the institution that presents good ideas and solutions for sustainable urban development. Among the actions highlighted are "Moeda Verde", which promotes the exchange of recyclable waste for food in socially vulnerable communities, and "De Volta para Sala", a circular initiative that enables the restoration, repair or production of sofas, furniture and upholstery.

Rio de Janeiro – can count on several favorable conditions for the development of the Circular Economy, among which the presence of an industrial ecosystem within its territory with the potential to circulate its inputs, materials and waste, as well as the presence of a consumer market open to innovation and the creative economy. In 2022, the municipality created the Rio Plastic Circular Committee, presenting a set of sustainable solutions for the circular chain of plastic. Subsequently, in April 2023, the city created a committee to scale up sustainable circular economy initiatives. The initiative, the result of a partnership of international cooperation between the municipal government and the European Union, integrates economic, social and urban-environmental policies for waste management.

Maricá (RJ) - The invitation to join the Declaration was due to the success of the circular urban agriculture programs implemented in the city, such as the agroecological squares, community gardens, the municipal restaurant, the family agriculture fair and the development of innovative techniques for agricultural production, which have made the municipality a benchmark in food security. Another highlight was the signing of an agreement with African cities (Quelimane and Boane, both in Mozambique) to strengthen food security and nutrition policies, combat food insecurity, prevent food waste and promote agroecology techniques in urban spaces to make cities more resilient and sustainable.

Curitiba (PR) - The city is a benchmark in urban planning, using circular economy concepts in several actions, such as recycling waste and reducing food waste with a food bank. In the process of decarbonization, the city created the first photovoltaic plant in Latin America built on a former landfill. Another initiative will be the purchase of 100% electric buses for public transport. The first units are expected to be purchased in the next two years and the goal is to replace the entire fleet by 2050, along with improvements to roads, sidewalks and terminals.