Circular economy strategies would tip balance in battle against dangerous climate change

The world can maximise chances of avoiding dangerous climate change by moving to a circular economy, reveals a report from impact organisation Circle Economy launched today at Davos during the annual meeting of the World Economic Forum.

It highlights the vast scope to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by applying circular principles – re-use,
re-manufacturing and re-cycling – to key sectors such as the built environment. Yet it notes that most governments barely consider circular economy measures in policies aimed at meeting the UN target of limiting
global warming to 1.5°C.

The Circularity Gap Report 2019 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.
Climate change and material use are closely linked. Circle Economy calculates that 62% of global greenhouse
gas emissions (excluding those from land use and forestry) are released during the extraction, processing and
manufacturing of goods to serve society’s needs; only 38% are emitted in the delivery and use of products and
services.

Yet global use of materials is accelerating. It has more than tripled since 1970 and could double again by 2050
without action, according to the UN International Resource Panel.The report calls on governments to take action to move from a linear “Take-Make-Waste” economy to a circular economy that maximises the use of existing assets, while reducing dependence on new raw materials and minimising waste. It argues that innovation to extend the lifespan of existing.

Fundamental principles of a circular built environment include:

● Financing and investment decisions which recognise the long-term and future value of built assets;
● Reusing existing building materials;
● Modular design of new building materials to allow for re-use and re-assembly;
● Alternatives to carbon-intensive materials such as cement;
● Optimising the lifetime of buildings and designing them for flexible use.

Three key strategies for the circular economy

The report highlights three key circular strategies which could be adapted throughout the economy and gives
examples:

1. Optimising the utility of products by maximising their use and extending their lifetime.
2. Enhanced recycling, using waste as a resource. By 2050 there will be an estimated 78 million tonnes of
decommissioned solar panels.
3. Circular design, reducing material consumption and using lower-carbon alternatives. decades.

Recommendations for governments

The Netherlands has set itself a target of becoming 50% circular by 2030 and 100% by 2050, but most governments have yet to wake up to the potential of the circular economy.

The report calls on governments to ensure that climate change and circular economy strategies are joined up to
achieve maximum impact, through the use of tax and spending plans to drive change.