Why We NEED A Circular Economy Approach To Reach Climate Targets

Move over, CO2. Minimizing emissions isn’t enough anymore: the climate crisis needs something meatier to make real improvements. Transitioning to a circular economy is an important—and unavoidable—step to achieving climate targets. 

The Urgency of the Climate Crisis

Our current linear system means the things that we produce get created, consumed, and then thrown away—A to B, with a lot of “B” at the end. That “take-make-waste” extractive economy also happens to rely heavily on fossil fuels and is responsible for those infamous greenhouse gas emissions. Nearly half of greenhouse gas emissions come from the way we actually make and use the products and materials we need in our daily lives.

To meet the target of net-zero emissions by 2050 set in the Paris Agreement, a significant shift is needed. Failing to address the climate crisis could result in immense costs, projected to reach USD 54 trillion by 2100. The incentive to tackle this challenge is undeniable.

The Role of the Circular Economy

While the transition to renewable energy and energy efficiency is crucial, it only addresses 55% of emissions. The remaining 45% comes from the production of everyday products such as cars, clothes, food, and more. 

Enter the circular economy: aka a more synergistic approach to the way we make and use products.  A circular economy eschews the consumeristic mindset and instead helps reuse materials to make the entire system less wasteful and more resilient. 

By implementing circular strategies in key sectors like cement, aluminum, steel, plastics, and food, almost half of the remaining emissions in the production of goods—9.3 billion tons of CO2 in 2050—can be eliminated. To put it in perspective, that’s equivalent to eliminating the current emissions from ALL forms of transport globally.

Achieving Circular Transformation

But how can we actually start moving towards that circular transformation that we need? 

When it comes to manufacturing and construction, we can push towards the circular economy by increasing the use rates of assets like buildings and vehicles and promoting the recycling of materials. This reduces the demand for virgin resources and minimizes associated emissions. 

Similarly, when it comes to the food we eat and subsequently throw out, we can adopt regenerative production and reduce waste along the value chain to help sequester carbon in the soil and reduce emissions from uneaten food and unused by-products.

Resilience and Sustainable Development

The circular economy not only addresses the causes and effects of climate change but also contributes to other Sustainable Development Goals that are particularly responsible for consumption and production. This helps improve air quality, reduces water contamination, protects biodiversity, and provides innovative opportunities for businesses to reduce material costs, increase asset utilization, and respond to changing customer demands.

Collaborative Efforts for a Thriving Future

Achieving a thriving, net-zero-emissions economy requires collaboration. International institutions need to prioritize the circular economy and give it the same prominence as other emission-reduction activities. Governments and cities should incorporate circular economy principles into their climate strategies, while businesses can scale up circular opportunities and respond to climate change. Investors have the opportunity to mobilize capital toward businesses actively reducing climate risk in their portfolios.

A Circular Economy World Is Waiting!

The circular economy is not merely an option in the pursuit of climate targets, but a powerful solutions framework for a prosperous future. By adopting circular practices, we can make significant strides in emissions reduction, create more liveable cities, distribute value more widely in the economy, and spur innovation. By embracing the circular economy, we can complete the picture of a thriving, net-zero-emissions economy and make it a reality.

Want to learn more? Be sure to check out “Completing the Picture: How the Circular Economy Tackles Climate Change”, aka the inspiration behind this very post!

This paper was released in collaboration with Material Economics and dives into the five key areas  (cement, plastics, steel, aluminum, and food) that could benefit from a circular economy approach to meet the UN climate goals. 

Interested in learning how the SWEEP certification process can help your local government and materials management companies become more sustainable and aid the circular economy movement? Comment below, reach out at info@sweepstandard.org or visit membership page.

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