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Learn about our vision for a world in which both people and the natural world can prosper, and the two key issues we are working on to achieve it: climate and energy, and the circular economy. Browse all our research and policy documents and discover how we work with coalitions, partners, churches and individuals across the world who are taking action and making their voices heard by global leaders.

A vision for change

Over the last 25 years, millions of families around the world have escaped from poverty. However, a billion people still remain trapped, and many others remain vulnerable – just one crisis can drive them back into poverty.

Why is this? Although we have succeeded in economic development, we have failed on environmental sustainability. The changes to the natural world of the last 60 years are unprecedented and are having consequences for the people Tearfund works with today.

We see a way forward. A way to restore balance, to see poverty eliminated and enable everyone to prosper. A way that requires not just the actions of governments, but all of us.

All research and policy on sustainable economy

Climate and energy

Climate change threatens the natural balance of the world. Tackling it is about both the environment and people. It’s about securing a better life for future generations and communities today.

Investing in clean, renewable energy is an opportunity to tackle both climate change and poverty. It’s an injustice that over one billion people do not have electricity and over two billion still use firewood, charcoal and dung to cook, while clean electricity and cooking solutions exist to reduce poverty.

One family from Tanzania describes how clean renewable energy has transformed their lives and doubled their income.

Off-grid renewable electricity offers the most viable way to ensure that everyone has electricity by 2030, especially in rural areas. Policymakers, practitioners and investors can seize the opportunities that off-grid renewable energy offers and scale up these benefits.

All research and policy on climate and energy

Circular economy

Current development approaches often result in economic growth at the expense of the natural world, but it doesn’t have to be this way. The circular economy is a new way of thinking about the world. Our current way of doing things is linear: we take natural resources, make items, use them and then throw them away. At this end point all the energy, water and materials used in making the items are thrown away too. The circular economy, however, keeps resources in use for as long as possible. We are working to help governments, companies and communities around the world to solve the world's waste problem and embrace the circular economy – creating jobs, tackling climate change and saving lives.

Download Toolkit to help businesses working with the informal sector to reduce waste

How waste can save lives and create jobs

The circular economy is a new way of thinking about the world. Industry is already embracing it. European businesses that work on the basis of circular principles are amongst the fastest growing in the economy. The potential for job creation is great. But the possible benefits go even further than this.

At present, around 9 million people die of diseases linked to mismanagement of waste and pollutants each year. That’s 20 times more than die from malaria. A circular economy would help us fix this.

So what is a circular economy?

Well it's like this… We currently have a primarily linear economy which means we make a product like a toaster or phone and when it breaks or there is a better model available we throw it away. At this point all of the energy, metals and water used to make the phone are lost. Nearly all of a product's material and energy value is currently wasted in this way. But in a circular economy this waste and inefficiency is avoided. 

Resources like cars and machinery are shared so the amount of time they sit idle is reduced. And products can be used for longer because they are designed to be easily repaired or rebuilt with remanufactured components.

This system echoes our natural world: when an organism reaches the end of its life it provides nutrients for another part of the system. 

So how does this apply to development? 

The circular economy holds out the promise of a better development model that creates jobs, improves health and reduces pollution. But despite this triple win, few people in development are working on it at present. Many are even unaware of it. Nevertheless, circular practices can already be found in many sectors of the economy in low and middle-income countries. 

  • The Kumasi complex in Ghana is a major remanufacturing and repair cluster for vehicles surpassing anything found in Europe. More than 12,000 small businesses employ 200,000 workers an increase from 40,000 in the early 1980s. 
  • In the huge Suzhou National District industrial park in China, firms collaborate so that byproducts from one industrial process - like wastewater - are used as the raw materials for another. This not only saves money and resources; it has reduced sulphur dioxide emissions by a third resulting in cleaner air for local residents. 
  • In rural Brazil, Tearfund partner Diaconia are working with family farmers to install bio-digesters that convert animal waste into cooking gas and nutrient-rich fertiliser. Ordinarily the animal waste would break down and emit greenhouse gases contributing to climate change. Now these emissions are prevented, and farmers’ livelihoods are improved because they spend less on cooking gas, and the fertiliser increases the output from their farms. 

This is just a glimpse of what is possible. These nations can build on these existing examples and potentially leapfrog straight to 21st century circular systems and institutions.

Tearfund is working towards this, helping communities and policy-makers overcome the barriers to circular approaches. More widespread adoption of the circular economy by those working in development would accelerate this transition, helping communities create jobs and save lives now and for generations to come.

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