Amsterdam, Brussels bet on doughnut economics amid Covid crisis

The streets of Amsterdam are empty as the lockdown continues due to the Coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak on April 12, 2020 in Amsterdam, the Netherlands.

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LONDON – More and more cities are turning to a donut-shaped economic model to recover from the coronavirus crisis and reduce the risk of future shocks.

British economist and author of Donut Economics, Kate Raworth believes it is only a matter of time before the concept is adopted nationally.

At the beginning of April last year, the Dutch capital Amsterdam was the first city in the world to officially implement the donut economy. She started the initiative at a time when the country had one of the world’s highest death rates from the coronavirus pandemic.

The Amsterdam city government said at the time it hoped to recover from the crisis and avoid future crises by taking a city portrait of the donut theory.

As pointed out in Raworth’s 2017 book, the donut economy aims to “act as a compass for human progress” and transform the degenerative economy of the last century into the regenerative economy of this century.

“The compass is a donut, the kind with a hole in the middle. While that sounds ridiculous, it’s the only donut that actually turns out to be good for us,” Raworth told CNBC over the phone.

Their goal is to ensure that no one misses the essence of life, from food and water to social justice to political voice, while ensuring that humanity does not destroy the earth’s life support systems such as a stable climate and fertile soils.

For so many people, it would be very good news if a successful donut in Amsterdam means other cities, countries and institutions will apply the theory.

Marieke van Doorninck

Deputy Mayor of the City of Amsterdam

Using a simple diagram of a donut, Raworth suggests that the outer ring represents the Earth’s environmental ceiling – a place where the collective use of resources is detrimental to the planet. The inner ring represents a number of internationally agreed minimum social standards. The space in between, known as the “sweet spot of mankind”, is the donut.

“We want to make sure everyone has the basic resources they need to live a life of dignity, community, and opportunity. Don’t leave anyone in the middle,” Raworth said.

The model previously praised by Pope Francis has reasserted attention in the global health crisis.

Scientists advocating a new approach argue that the current economic system is sacrificing both people and the environment at a time when everything from changing weather patterns to rising sea levels is global and unprecedented.

The ‘aha’ moment

The Donut Economics Action Lab (DEAL) began working with Amsterdam policymakers in December 2019 to shrink the global concept of the donut into a city model, Raworth said. The municipality then officially adopted the model on April 8, 2020.

“We initially had some doubts about the timing,” Marieke van Doorninck, deputy mayor of the city of Amsterdam, told CNBC.

“However, it turned out that people were also craving ideas on how to rebuild our economy after the crisis. Our circular strategy is a tool to ensure that we don’t go back to normal but look forward to a path to improve our economy shape.” different.”

A general view shows the ongoing construction of the Dhaka Metro Rail project in Dhaka on March 16, 2021.

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Within six weeks of the Amsterdam announcement, Raworth told CNBC that policymakers in Copenhagen, Denmark had started exploring the concept. The Belgian capital, Brussels, accepted the donut in late September, while the Canadian city of Nanaimo voted for it in December.

According to Raworth, many more cities around the world are in contact with DEAL every week, and work continues with partners in Costa Rica, India, Bangladesh, Zambia and Barbados, among others.

“The city of Amsterdam has always been a pioneer city. It loves to be a pioneer, which is a brilliant attribute because there are many cities that will not lead. They will only follow when they see someone go,” said Raworth.

“It’s not going to work to have three, four, five separate strategies that are all trying to connect. When they came across the concept of the donut, I know they were like, ‘Ah, this is a concept that is over Everything stands and includes everything, it’s what we want to do. ‘”

Van Doorninck, who is responsible for spatial development and sustainability in the Dutch capital, said the city’s circular strategy focuses on areas where local government “can really make a difference”.

These areas include food and organic waste streams, consumer goods and the built environment. As a result, the city has targeted a 50% reduction in food waste by 2030 and has taken measures to make it easier for residents to consume less (by setting up easily accessible and well-functioning thrift stores and repair services over the next three years) and urged construction companies to build with sustainable materials.

Historic center of Amsterdam, the capital of the Netherlands.

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“We are very proud to be a role model for other cities and we are (happy) to get the message across,” said van Doorninck.

“Nothing is as successful as success. It would be very good news for so many people if a successful donut in Amsterdam means that other cities, countries and institutions will apply the theory.”

‘Rethinking old economic mantras’

About five months after Amsterdam bet its recovery after Covid on the donut, the Brussels region officially adopted the model and used it as a portrait for the city’s transition to a sustainable and thriving economy.

Barbara Trachte, State Secretary for the Brussels Region, told CNBC that a key feature of the Brussels donut is its “deeply participatory dynamic”.

Trachten, who is responsible for economic change and scientific research in the Brussels region, said the model embodied a “paradigm shift” and helped shape the region’s efforts to look at the economy differently.

“I think people understand the power of donut theory to rethink the old economic mantras,” she said. “It gives them a positive boost, a kind of ‘let’s do it’ attitude that can move mountains. And if the Brussels region can help lead the way, so much the better.”

Despite the coronavirus crisis, people are enjoying a warm Saturday afternoon in Brussels, Belgium on February 20, 2021.

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Raworth said there was something about the dynamism, size, and energy of a city that might explain why those areas are more open to experimentation with new ideas. In Britain, at least, there is also a sense of local civic pride, which means people are more proud to say the city they belong to than the nation they live in, she said.

“There’s something about a city’s visibility, too. You can see what happens when the city’s policymakers paint yellow lines on the streets and move car lanes onto bike lanes. You can see this change,” she added.

When asked if she believed the donut model would soon be adopted nationally, Raworth replied, “Yes, I do.”

“All that happens is because in one place people saw it and said, ‘We think this might be useful for us.’ So it’s all drawn by local change makers, “she continued.

“We go where the energy is and it is absorbed. We know the power of peer inspiration. When Amsterdam starts, it will trigger this interest in many places.”

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