Circular Economy and decarbonization in the City of Buenos Aires. A partnership between INNUBATEC and Enel Argentina

Why is the Circular Economy and the decarbonization of our Cities of such strategic importance?  While cities take up only 3% of the Earth's surface, more than half of the population live in them and generate about 80% of the world's GDP1. Urban productive systems have been largely structured on a linear economic model. This model has led to unprecedented rises in income for urban households2 but places great pressures on the natural and urban environments that sustain them. Cities consume 75% of the world's natural resources, 66% of the energy produced and 54% of the world's materials, and by 2050 they are expected to consume 80% of the global food supply3. Furthermore, cities contribute between 50% and 80% of global greenhouse gas emissions and generate half of the planet's solid waste. This is why circular economy and decarbonization initiatives have to be addressed jointly. Hundreds of cities around the world have already began designing and implementing circular economy technologies, policies, processes and regulations. While there have been mixed approaches and results, international experience gives an interesting insight into how local governments can leverage limited resources in innovative ways to further transition their cities towards circular systems. Argentina’s capital, Buenos Aires, has already begun this transition.

In line with the above, Enel sponsored an assessment study to be carried out in conjunction with Innubatec and CEADS. The study aims to identify and map out a work agenda focused on the Circular Economy and Decarbonization of Buenos Aires. In keeping with the UN's 2030 Sustainable Development Goals, the agenda will integrate, coordinate and leverage efforts, opportunities and challenges that warrant a circular approach in our cities. The study et out three stages of development:

1) A series of working group meetings to establish the reach of the study, the objectives, partnerships and responsibilities. With that established, stakeholders prepared a proposal for Buenos Aires.

2) Sample surveys were designed and interviews planned to collect data and insight from key stakeholders from the public, private and academic sectors.

3) Finally, the information collected from primary and secondary sources, combined with the data from the interviews and surveys, helped give shape to the first Circular Economy and Decarbonization assessment for Buenos Aires.

According to the preliminary analysis of the results of the study, the Buenos Aires faces four major challenges related to the Economy, Governance and the Circular Economy (same challenges as those seen by the OECD):


  • Demographic growth: the global population is expected to reach 9.7 billion in 2050. Population growth (including migration) does not initially appear as a problem in Buenos Aires; the population has been stable since the 1940s and is only projected to increase by 15,000 people 4 from 2010 to 2040, according to INDEC.
  • Urbanization (more inhabitants in cities): according to a World Bank report 2/3 of the world's population will live in cities by 2050. In Argentina's case this number will reach 90%, so the Buenos Aires needs to prepare itself for migration from other provinces.Climate change: The changes in climatic variables such as temperature and rainfall observed over recent decades indicate that the main climatic threats to Buenos Aires are river and coastal flooding, high temperatures and heat waves.
  • Economic growth: Investment is required in infrastructure and more collaboration amongst stakeholders is needed. The typical hallmarks of circular cities include encouraging the use of renewable energy sources and electrification for end-users, reducing waste and promoting the exchange and reuse of goods. Municipalities that aim to implement sustainable development and improve the quality of life of  their citizens must draw up circular economic plans and strategies that cover all sectors of urban life. By the same token, they must understand that keeping cities clean is key to the global process of decarbonization as is harnessing the principles of circularity.


Addressing these challenges in time to meet the city’s decarbonization targets will require rapid implementation of this strategy, on a major scale, and with collaboration of multiple players. Transitioning from a linear model to a circular one requires adapting economic incentives, policies, norms and habits. Involving other important stakeholders is also fundamental in order to identify obstacles and work together to remove them and achieve goals together. The research and interviews indicate that there is no single sector today that has a comprehensive approach to implementing the circular economy or that has a complete view of how to rethink the whole new economic model.

However, with the approval of the Circular Economy Law in 2021, many foresee a great opportunity to work collaboratively towards achieving decarbonization by 2050 and to generate greater economic development in multiple sectors. A cultural shift is already taking place and being seen through waste management where people are already starting to use recycling depots.


Collaborative, circularity-oriented work has numerous potential benefits:


  •  Establishes a city-wide vision of Buenos Aires for the circular economy.
  •  Integrates disruptive circular economy strategies in Buenos Aires.
  •  Adopts focused, multi-disciplinary targets and metrics that actively move the city towards circularity.
  •  Seizes new and emerging financial opportunities.
  •  Raises awareness of all stakeholders about the importance of incorporating circularity targets.
  •  Education: builds skills and knowledge sharing for the transition to circularity in Buenos Aires.
  •  Transitioning cities to a circular economy is complex. It requires a long-term perspective to redesign how cities operate and takes into account the quality of life of the average citizen. It also requires resilience in striving to meet zero net emissions targets gradually. A circular economic, strategic framework must incorporate different economic, environmental and social objectives during each of its implementation phases.
  •  It requires a plan of open governance, cross-sectoral collaboration and public-private partnerships, etc. Buenos Aires is not just the physical place where the impact of the circular economy is felt, but also the place that has the means and the organizations to take the necessary action.
  •  Technology is not the problem. All of the technology necessary for this transition is available. Innovation requires multiple physical and digital solutions, including renewable energy, new sustainable materials, new buildings, electric vehicles recycling technologies, digitization, big data, etc.
  •  Cities are global players, and their impact is not limited to the city boundaries: the emissions reduction strategy must assess both production and consumption-based emissions.


Achieving decarbonization goals in Buenos Aires is possible. We need to work in a comprehensive way to achieve the transition to a circular economy that puts the citizen at the center.

At ENEL Argentina we are committed to coordinating and working continually with all of the initiatives that emerge. We will work to identify the necessary stakeholders and create the appropriate spaces to promote these types of discussions.


2. McKinsey Global Institute