A circular economy system recycles materials back into the production system, such as plastic bottles becoming other products. © Getty Images/EyeEm
A circular economy system recycles materials back into the production system, such as plastic bottles becoming other products. © Getty Images/EyeEm

Circular economy 'fundamental' for net zero by 2050

A circular economy approach is required in combination with renewable energy to meet net-zero emissions by 2050, according to a report.

Renewable energy is able to account for a 55% reduction in greenhouse gas emissions, but the remaining 45%, generated by manufacturing everyday consumables, is being “overlooked”, said the Ellen MacArthur Foundation (EMF).

The report, Completing the Picture: How the Circular Economy Tackles Climate Change, outlined practical solutions through adopting the circular economy across production of cement, plastics, steel, aluminium, and food, which could cut 9.3bn tonnes of emissions.

“By 2050, the global demand for industry materials such as steel, cement, aluminium, and plastics will increase by two to fourfold, while global food demand is estimated to increase by 42%,” said the report. Therefore, global emissions will exceed the amount allowed to meet the Paris agreement temperature limit of 1.5C by 2050, regardless of energy efficiencies and green sources. 

A systematic transformation of how industries “design, produce and use goods” is essential to reducing production emissions. 

Philip Selwood, chief executive of the Energy Saving Trust and trustee of the EMF, said: “The paper highlights that a system-led approach is essential and actions that mitigate climate impacts and build resilience are critical to the delivery of future emissions targets.”

The circular economy can make up almost half of the 45% gap, while the use of emerging technology, innovation, carbon capture storage, and diet shift will be needed to create further emission cuts.

Food production is highlighted as an area that would benefit from producing and managing food resources through a circular approach. There is a potential reduction in emissions of 5.6bn tonnes by 2050. This would involve transition to food system models around “designing out waste, keeping products and materials in use and regenerating natural land”.

Cross sector and intergovernmental efforts between international institutions, governments, businesses, and investors will be vital to make the circular economy framework achievable, according to the report. 

Each body plays a key role, such as institutions encouraging the circular economy on the international agenda of climate change, policymakers incentivising and taking action through policies and collaboration and direct integration into government plans. Also, businesses can support pilot projects and innovations to develop proven concept in industries, and investors can fund and scale up opportunities. 

Meanwhile, a report by sustainability media organisation Edie has investigated how the utilities sector can reduce carbon emissions, including leveraging the roles of sustainability and energy professionals to achieve net-zero carbon by 2050.

Luke Nicholls, content director at Edie, said in the report: “Britain's utilities sector has a golden opportunity to position itself at the forefront of the net-zero revolution. 

“With the right support and direction, energy and water suppliers large and small can deliver transformative systems that radically reduce carbon whilst enabling and empowering their customers to do the same.”

Separately, Kering, the parent company of Alexander McQueen and Balenciaga, has been analysing its emissions impact across its whole supply chain since 2011. This has allowed the company to create tailored supply chain efficiency programmes, including improved best practices and sustainability requirements for raw materials and manufacturing processes and conversions to renewable energy to meet goals of 100% renewable energy in over seven countries.

Last week Gucci, a subsidiary of Kering, also made an announcement about going carbon neutral by 2040. 

Meanwhile, logistics firm Kuehne and Nagel will offer carbon neutral transport options by 2020 through “proactively addressing the CO2 footprint of the transportation services performed by its suppliers – airlines, shipping lines and haulage companies”.

The company will also use technology to create efficient routes and reduce emissions of cargo shipments and offset carbon emissions by supporting reforestation and environmental protection projects.

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