The impact organisation Circle Economy launched the Circularity Gap Report during the World Economic Forum’s virtual Davos Agenda Week. It offers strategies tailored to countries at different levels of development as they plan to stimulate economic recovery from the Covid pandemic.
The Report has identified a set of circular strategies that can keep the planet on a well below 2°C trajectory by cutting emissions by 22.8 billion tonnes beyond what is achieved by current pledges, a 39% reduction from 2019 levels.
The report calculates that 70% of all emissions are generated by the extraction, processing and manufacturing of goods to meet society’s needs. The world is consuming more than 100Gt of materials a year and just 8.6% are reused.
The strategies it identifies would cut annual material consumption to 79Gt, by reducing the volume of materials used to create products and services, using resources for longer, and replacing finite resources like fossil fuels with regenerative resources like renewable energy. They would also increase the proportion of materials that are reused from 8.6% to 17%, nearly doubling the circularity of the global economy.
Housing, Travel and Food
The report finds that three key societal needs are responsible for almost 70% of global emissions and are the areas where circular strategies can have the greatest impact: housing, mobility and nutrition.
Housing – including commercial and industrial buildings - generates 13.5Gt of emissions every year. It consumes vast amounts of virgin resources, it makes abundant use of carbon-intensive materials such as cement and steel, it creates significant emissions from heating and cooling, and it generates huge amounts of waste. With circular strategies, 9.5Gt of construction and demolition waste could be diverted from landfill and reused, reducing the need for virgin materials; cement and steel could be substituted for more lightweight, regenerative materials.
Mobility generates 17.1Gt of emissions a year, primarily from burning fossil fuels for passenger and freight transport. New design approaches to make vehicles lighter will reduce consumption and strategies like car sharing can make their use more efficient. Circular strategies can cut emissions by 5.6Gt and material use by 5.3Gt.
Nutrition generates around 10Gt of emissions a year, including 4Gt of emissions a year from land use alone. As global populations and increase and more people adopt western diets more land is needed to grow crops - especially for animal feed - and for pasture, and this drives deforestation. Regenerative agriculture and aquaculture can reduce the environmental impact of fish, cattle and crop farming while producing good yields. Switching to more plant-based diets will have a lower footprint. Circular strategies can cut emissions by 4.3Gt and material use by 4.5Gt.