Report: Circular economy a ‘powerful force’ to meeting Paris Agreement goals

Circular business models and greater material efficiency of products in the transport and built environment sectors could reduce emissions by 3.6 billion tonnes annually - putting the globe on course to meet the targets of the Paris Agreement.

That is the key finding of a new report conducted by Material Economics that examines how closed-loop processes for steel, plastics, aluminium, and cement – in relation to transport and building use – could dramatically reduce emissions.

The report found that 3.6 billion tonnes of industrial emissions could be avoided annually if businesses in the relevant sectors adopt circular operating models. In comparison, it has been estimated that the carbon budget to limit global warming to below 2C currently sits at 800 billion tonnes for the end of the century.

Industry accounts for around a quarter of global CO2 emissions, emitting roughly 37 billion tonnes in 2017. The report highlights that Europe is primed to embrace a new circular economy, with EU industrial emissions potentially reduced by 56% by 2050 – more than half of what is required to achieve a net-zero-emissions industrial sector by the end of the century.

“Adoption of new, circular business models based on material reuse and improved efficiency can only bring benefits and give the European companies competitive edge. In parallel, it will lead to significant emission reductions, contributing to our ambitious climate policy targets and improving the quality of life in Europe. Clearly THE winning strategy”, the European Commission’s vice president, responsible for jobs, growth, investment and competitiveness, Jyrki Katainen said.

Winning strategy

The report notes that closed-loop models, such as reuse and the sharing economy, could compliment ongoing decarbonisation processes in the power sector, which has led to record levels of renewables deployment.

Up to 75% of the EU’s steel needs, for example, could be accounted for through reusing and recirculating current products, according to the report. Half of the current aluminium stock and 56% of plastics could also be accounted for in this way, which reduces emissions from the extraction and manufacturing processes.

The European Commission is currently updating its climate roadmap to run through to 2050 to make it consistent with the goals of the Paris Agreement. The report calls on the Commission to tackle industrial emissions as part of the strategy.

“This striking study makes it abundantly clear that to meet the Paris Agreement commitments, the future EU economy must include circular business models, increased recirculation of materials and more material efficient products,” the European Climate Foundation’s group co-ordinator Martin Porter added.

“To do this, integral to its mid-century strategy, the EU should develop an industrial innovation strategy with circularity and digitalisation at is core and net zero emissions by 2050 as its goal.”

The study notes that both the mobility and construction value chains can benefit from circular approaches, alongside digital innovations that embed new business models.

Matt Mace

Action inspires action. Stay ahead of the curve with sustainability and energy newsletters from edie