Report: Circular economy can halve emissions of UK infrastructure projects

Transitioning to a circular economy can assist in the net-zero transition, with a new report supported by AECOM stating that carbon reductions of up to 50% can be delivered and £35bn generated for the UK economy by using closed-loop materials throughout the design process of infrastructure projects.

By 2036, the circular economy could add £35bn to the UK economy

By 2036, the circular economy could add £35bn to the UK economy

The AECOM-led Major Infrastructure – Resource Optimisation Group (MI-ROG), has published its latest white paper, outlining the carbon potential of embracing the circular economy in infrastructure and the built environment.

The report found that carbon reductions of around 50% can be achieved by using low-carbon materials throughout the design process. It will also help reduce overhead costs, improve supply chain resiliency and streamline the delivery process by minimising resource use and consumption.

Infrastructure is responsible for 16% of the UK’s total carbon emissions, as well as a further 37% attributable to the materials and energy which are required to build, maintain and operate the finished projects. As such, embracing the circular economy can help the UK with its net-zero ambition.

Additionally, the white paper found that adopting circular economy principles can significantly enhance productivity across the construction industry. By 2036, it could add £35bn to the UK economy.

AECOM’s director of sustainable development Robert Spencer said: “Infrastructure is often seen as the backbone of economic recovery, however, to ensure this is done mindfully, with a focus on legacy and resilience, we must encourage Circular Economy principles from the very beginning in both our design approach and delivery. By doing this, we can bring in innovative solutions and materials whilst significantly reducing costs and contributing to a stronger economy and more sustainable relationship with both nature and society.

“As we emerge from the current pandemic, it is crucial to ensure stakeholders, value chains and the sector as a whole come together to create a flourishing future for generations to come as this also has the potential to generate a wide range of new jobs across various sectors.”

Closed-loop zero

The white paper echoes recent calls from the Ellen MacArthur Foundation, which claimed that focusing on decarbonising the energy sector alone will not put the world within touching distance of a net-zero carbon economy. In fact, a circular economy is also vital to the net-zero transition.

The Completing the Picture: How the Circular Economy tackles Climate Change report, published by the Foundation (EMF), in collaboration with Material Economics, found that moving to renewables across the globe will only address 55% of greenhouse gas emissions. To tackle the remaining 45%, the paper notes that transitioning to close-loop value chains, diet shift, emerging innovations and carbon capture and storage are all required.

The report examined the role of the circular economy in tackling overlooked emissions, namely in the production of steel, plastic, aluminium, cement and food. According to the report, keeping products and materials in use can reduce emissions per sector by up to 40%. In the food system, regenerative farming and designing out waste can reduce emissions as part of a circular economy by 49%.

A report released at the World Economic Forum meeting in Davos in January also outlined the urgent need for nations to "wake up to the potential" of the circular economy in order to push the world towards the Paris Agreement's more ambitious pathway.

The Circularity Gap Report 2019 was released by non-profit Circle Economy, which consists of a member community of businesses including Arup, ING and VF Corp. The report notes that most governments are failing to consider circular economy policies in order to limit global warming to 1.5C.

The report notes that just 9% of the global economy is considered circular, meaning that less than 10% of the 92.8 billion tonnes of material extracted for use is reused annually. With global material use more than tripling since the 1970s – and set to double again by 2050 – Circle Economy is advising governments to rethink approaches to resource use in select sectors.

Matt Mace



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