Circular Economy


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AMSTERDAM: The latest Circularity Gap report from non-profit Circular-Economy says in order to stop exploiting the Earth's finite raw materials, humanity must utilise data-driven tools to bring circularity to everyone, use metrics to track the transition and apply a social lens to ensure no one is left behind:

At the end of this year, nations will gather in Sharm El Sheikh to present their strengthened targets on emissions cuts. Our last five years of Circularity Gap Reports have put the problem in stark terms and uncovered the solution: 21 circular strategies that will slash emissions and material use, limit warming and facilitate an increasingly safe and just space for humanity.

Aside from these solutions for businesses, cities and nations, we need urgent, large-scale and high-level change in the five years to come. These changes span three core pillars: digital technology, metrics and measurement and social considerations, and also represent Circle Economy’s key contributions to accelerating the circular transition.

It’s not easy to put a number on global circularity, and in doing so we must bypass some of the intricacies of the global economy. But the benefits of having one number to guide action and to set a benchmark are manifold.

In only six years [since the Paris Agreement], the global economy has consumed an additional half a trillion tonnes of virgin materials, namely minerals, ores, fossil fuels and biomass. These enormous volumes of materials—by and large wasted after use— are climbing year-on-year.

Ultimately, waste is connected to most environmental problems, from biodiversity loss, global warming and air pollution to plastic soup.

In only 50 years, global use of materials has nearly quadrupled—outpacing population growth. In 1972, as the Club of Rome’s report Limits to Growth was published, the world consumed 28.6 billion tonnes. By 2000 this had gone up to 54.9 billion tonnes and as of 2019, it surpassed 100 billion tonnes.

Rising waste levels are accompanying the rapid acceleration of consumption: ultimately, over 90 percent of all materials extracted and used are wasted.

Or, on the flip side, only 8.6 percent makes it back into our economy. This rate of extraction continues to threaten the planet’s future—and our lives on it. And forecasts paint a grim future: according to the International Resource Panel, material use may increase to between 170 and 184 billion tonnes in 2050 if business as usual prevails.

Think of the coal extracted from the earth’s crust: it’s first processed to become petroleum, which feeds into the synthetic fibres that weave the fast-fashion clothes we wear and quickly dispose of, or the harvested timber that is felled in the forest and processed in a sawmill to become the furniture we sit on and then throw away.

This report has presented the key findings of the past five years to demonstrate how the circular economy and its rich set of solutions can thoroughly contribute to mitigating climate impact and moving the world toward an ecologically safe and socially just space.

With 2021’s COP26 yielding mixed outcomes, our message remains: rallying efforts around renewable energy solutions fails to address the chunk of emissions (70 percent) stemming from resource use and handling.

We need the clean energy transition to happen, but it cannot keep us on the well below 2-degrees trajectory alone. Nor does it tackle our rising consumption levels and concerning resource scarcity.

If the world moved away from a linear economy and toward a circular one, our analysis shows that global greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions would drop by 39 percent and virgin resource use by 28 percent, and we would reach the goals of the Paris Agreement. Glasgow did not deliver as many had hoped, so now our attention must turn toward COP27 at the end of this year.

Aside from integrating circularity into the actions of businesses, cities and nations, high-level change must be enacted to create the enabling conditions for a more circular world. We must utilise data-driven tools to bring circularity to everyone, use metrics to track the transition and apply a social lens to the transition to ensure no one is left behind.

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