There needs to be a shift in the global approach to tackling climate change, according to a new report, which suggests the circular economy could be the missing piece in the puzzle.
Switching to renewable energy can only address 55 per cent of global greenhouse gas emissions, the report argues. The remaining 45 per cent must come from transforming how we produce and use both products and food.
The report, from the Ellen MacArthur Foundation, says the circular economy – based on three principles: design out waste and pollution, keep products and materials in use, and regenerate natural systems – offers a systemic and cost effective approach to tackling the challenge.
It sets out how adopting a circular economy framework in five key areas – steel, plastic, aluminium, cement, and food – could achieve a reduction totalling 9.3 billion tonnes of greenhouse gases in 2050.
This is equivalent to eliminating current emissions from all forms of transport globally.
As well as tackling both the causes and effects of climate change, the report said the circular economy can also help meet other UN Sustainable Development Goals, such as creating more liveable cities, distributing value more widely in the economy, and spurring innovation.
“These attributes make the circular economy a potent contributor to achieving zero-carbon prosperity,” the report said.
Dame Ellen MacArthur, founder of the foundation, said it was critical that we transform how we design, make, and use products and food.
“Completing the picture through a transition to a circular economy can enable us to meet the needs of a growing global population, while creating a prosperous and resilient economy that can run in the long term,” MacArthur said.
The UK-based charity is calling on governments, businesses, investors, and academia to integrate their efforts to respond to climate change with those to accelerate the transition to a circular economy and to move away from a “take-make-waste” linear economy.
“This paper shows that transitioning to a circular economy is not only an opportunity to tackle emissions across sectors, but to design an economy that is restorative and regenerative, creating benefits for society, businesses, and the environment,” MacArthur said.
The report, Completing the Picture: How the Circular Economy Tackles Climate Change, said achieving the transformation would require a concerted effort.
“No organisation can go about it alone,” it said.
It pointed to the role international institutions can play by putting the circular economy on the climate agenda.
Governments and cities can weave circular economy principles into their climate strategies.
Businesses can scale opportunities that simultaneously create value in new ways and respond to climate change.
Investors can mobilise capital towards businesses that actively reduce climate risk in their portfolios.
“A complete picture of a thriving, zero-emissions economy is coming into focus: the mission now is to make it a reality,” the report said.
Christiana Figueres, former executive secretary of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change and founding partner of Global Optimism, said carbon constraints represented huge ingenuity opportunities.
“That is true for every company, for every city, and any country,” Figueres said.
“That is the direction in which we need to move, and this paper offers compelling figures to give confidence in our ability to optimise decarbonisation and economic development in mutual support of each other.”