A new report paints a bright picture showing how the Circular Economy is one of the most promising ways to prevent catastrophic climate change – while reaping a host of economic, social and ecological benefits.
Since 2010, the Ellen MacArthur Foundation has been one of the world’s leading voices for the transition to the circular economy. Their latest study, Completing the Picture: How the Circular Economy Tackles Climate Change, demonstrates how the current mainstream approach to addressing climate change – centred on renewable energy production and efficiency – is incomplete.
The report stresses that businesses and governments absolutely need to integrate the Circular Economy into their climate change and sustainability strategies.
We’ve highlighted some key insights from the report below – you can read the full study on the Ellen MacArthur Foundation’s website.
Renewable Energy is Just Part of the Solution
The study argues that while actions to improve energy production and consumption are extremely important, those measures can only address 55% of total worldwide greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions.
Tackling the remaining 45%, which is attributable to the way we produce and use products, can only be done through the Circular Economy.
To illustrate this potential, this paper demonstrates how applying circular economy strategies in just five key areas (cement, aluminium, steel, plastics, and food) can eliminate almost half of the remaining emissions from the production of goods – 9.3 billion tonnes of CO2e in 2050 – equivalent to cutting current emissions from all transport to zero.
By 2050, the global population is projected to reach 10 billion. It is predicted that an emerging-market middle class will double its share of global consumption from one-third to two-thirds, and the world economy is expected to quadruple. This welcome, broad based rise in prosperity will cause emissions to exhaust the available carbon budget by a large margin.
By 2050, the global demand for industrial materials such as steel, cement, aluminium, and plastics is projected to increase by a factor of two to four, while global food demand is projected to increase by 42%
The Linear Economy Is Not Good Enough
Simply put, the Linear Economy, with its focus on extracting natural resources for new products in a consumerist cycle, is unsustainable.
Companies extract materials from the earth, apply energy and labour to manufacture a product, and sell it to an end user, who then discards it when it no longer serves its purpose. This linear approach, which relies on fossil fuels and does not manage resources such as land, water, and minerals for the long-term, emits GHGs that are causing a global climate crisis.
Overall, resource extraction and processing are responsible for more than 90% of land- and water-related environmental impacts (water stress and biodiversity loss) with agriculture being the main driver.
Circular Economy Addresses Shortcomings
The Circular Economy, on the other hand, looks for ways to maximize the use of materials already in the economy.
It addresses the shortcomings of the current system, while creating new opportunities for businesses and society.
A circular economy aims to decouple economic growth from the consumption of finite resources and build economic, natural, and social capital.
Circular economy principles present unique opportunities to help tackle the climate crisis by reducing GHG emissions along supply chains; preserving the embodied energy of products and materials; and increasing carbon sequestration through the regeneration of natural systems
The circular economy completes the picture of what is required to tackle the climate crisis. It offers an approach that is not only powered by renewable energy, but also transforms the way products are designed and used.
Focus on Cement, Steel, Aluminium and Plastic
The report describes the Circular Economy opportunities for four key industry sectors: cement, steel, plastics and aluminium, which account for 60% of total global industrial emissions.
Keeping products and components in use within the economy at their highest value and utility for as long as possible simply makes sense. The actions described show how, by decoupling their businesses from raw material extraction, these industries can slash CO2 emissions by 40% or 3.7 billion tonnes in 2050.
Feeding the World While Saving It, Too
Looking at agriculture, applying Circular Economy principles to the way we produce and manage food resources could reduce emissions by 49% or 5.6 billion tonnes CO2 equivalent – almost halving emissions from this sector in 2050.
Circular Economy is the Theme of #ZWC19
The Circular Economy is gaining momentum around the world, and should be top of mind for any government or business serious about sustainability and climate change.
The 2019 Zero Waste Conference is pleased to welcome the Ellen MacArthur Foundation’s Nolwenn Foray as part of the PLASTICS: A Global Challenge & Opportunity for Circularity at Scale session.
The expertise and insights of the many Circular Economy leaders and experts on the #ZWC19 roster, can help you understand the many possibilities for transforming your business. Register for the 2019 Zero Waste Conference now and don’t miss out.
Whether you’re totally new to the concept or an industry veteran, the Zero Waste Conference, in collaboration with the National Zero Waste Council, strikes a balance between theory and action. The conference is your guide to the people, ideas and actions that are having the biggest impact.
2019 Zero Waste Conference:
Mobilizing for Success in the Circular Economy
October 30 – 31, 2019
Vancouver Convention Centre (999 Canada Place)