09.04.2019

On the nexus between circular economy, climate change, Agenda 2030

A shift towards a circular economy can address some of the challenges posed by the increasing scarcity and depletion of natural resources and bring about many societal benefits, improve social welfare, including by creating new jobs and businesses. 

Currently, the world lacks a shared vision of the circular economy, even though Agenda 2030 and the SDGs provide an effective benchmark for developing relevant supportive policy strategies and legal frameworks.  ​​

However, there are persisting policy obstacles across the countries that undermine the progress and a scale-up of the circular economy such as taxation and regulation concerning the use of secondary raw materials, poor waste management legislation, the lack of mandatory goals around circular targets, and public procurement law that largely link the selection proceedings and outcomes rather to financial criteria, than to the environmental or societal impact. 

The circular economy can be a powerful tool for climate mitigation, but its potential is highly underestimated. Climate change and material use are closely linked. The Circularity Gap Report 2019,  (released at WEF) by the organization Circle Economy and supported by the UN Environment and the Global Environment Facility, calculates that 62 of the GHG emissions (excluding those from land use and forestry) are released during the extraction, processing, and manufacturing of goods to serve society’s needs; 38% are emitted in the delivery and use of products and services. The Circularity Gap Report 2019 suggests finds that the global economy is only 9% circular - just 9% of the 92.8 billion tonnes of minerals, fossil fuels, metals and biomass that enter the economy are re-used annually. Circle Economy’s CEO, Harald Friedl, said: “A 1.5-degree world can only be a circular world. Recycling, greater resource efficiency, and circular business models offer huge scope to reduce emissions. A systemic approach to applying these strategies would tip the balance in the battle against global warming. Governments should re-engineer their mitigation strategies and overview their supply chains "all the way back to the wells, fields, mines, and quarries where our resources originate so that we consume fewer raw materials. This will not only reduce emissions but also boost growth by making economies more efficient.” The report calls on governments to take action to move from a linear “Take-Make-Waste” economy to a circular economy that maximizes the use of existing assets while reducing dependence on new raw materials and minimizing waste. It argues that innovation to extend the lifespan of existing resources will not only curb emissions but also reduce social inequality and foster low-carbon growth. 

The earlier study by Finnish Innovation Fund Sitra also found a switch to the circular use notably of steel, plastics, aluminum and cement can be central to cutting global greenhouse gas emissions, and that a more circular economy in the EU alone could cut industrial emissions by more than half by 2050. This study identifies a broad range of opportunities in which the areas of steel, plastics, aluminum, and cement could reduce EU industrial emissions 56 percent (300 Mt) annually by 2050, more than half of what is necessary to achieve net zero emissions.

As for the level of policy, The circular economy was a focus of discussions at the UN Climate Change Conference in Bonn in May, 2018 (UNFCCC) where Technical Expert Meetings on Mitigation took place which aimed to identify activities that have a high potential for emission reductions in order to boost climate action before 2020.

By Katsiaryna Serada

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