Governments around the world need to do more to encourage the adoption of circular economy practices in order to prevent climate change, according to a new report from Amsterdam-based social enterprise organisation Circle Economy.
Circle Economy is calling for a considerable uptake in reuse, re-manufacturing and recycling in key sectors such as the built environment in order to lower carbon emissions.
“Most governments barely consider circular economy measures in policies aimed at meeting the UN target of limiting global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius,” the report said.
“Only about a tenth of the nearly 93 billion tonnes of materials utilised annually – including minerals, metals, fossil fuels and biomass – are currently put back into service.
Circle Economy estimates that 62 per cent of global greenhouse gas emissions (excluding those from land use and forestry) are released during the extraction, processing and manufacturing of goods. The other 38 per cent is emitted in the delivery and use of products and services.
Harald Friedl, Circle Economy CEO, told Engineering and Technology that more efficient use of those resources could help avoid overshooting the goals adopted in the 2015 Paris Agreement to limit the average rise in global temperatures to well below two degrees Celsius, ideally to 1.5 degrees Celsius, above pre-industrial times.
“A 1.5 degrees Celsius world can only be a circular world,” Friedl added.
“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.”
The report stated that 62 per cent of heat-trapping emissions, excluding land use and forestry, are released during the extraction, processing and manufacturing of goods. To tackle climate change, government policy has so far focused on adopting renewable energies, boosting energy efficiency and stopping de-forestation.
“It is like when you look in your closet on a morning and you only look for pants. We need to change the whole system,” Friedl said.
“To make things circular may be painful – from changing consumer and business habits to telling countries to put up the right regulations – but it is feasible.
“In Asia, fast-developing economies and urbanisation are driving huge investments in construction and infrastructure, offering chances to promote a circular economy.”
In Europe, the report urged countries to maximise the value of existing buildings by extending their lifespan, improving energy efficiency and finding new uses for them, with the report outlining three broad strategies to shift to circular economy.
“The use of products should be maximised, such as through car-sharing or keeping vehicles for longer,” the report stated.
“Recycling and reducing waste are also key, as is using natural, low-carbon materials in construction, like bamboo and wood instead of cement.
“Governments should adopt taxation and spending plans that encourage a circular economy, raising levies on emissions and excessive waste production, while cutting them for labour, innovation and investments.
“Financial incentives that promote the overuse of natural resources, such as fossil fuels, should be abolished.”