A UN webinar on The Benefits of a Circular Economy for Achieving Climate Objectives and Recovering Better took place on February 25th  as a pre-event of the World Circular Economy Forum and COP26 Climate Conference. This event was co-hosted by the EU Delegation and the Permanent Missions of Netherlands, Singapore, Kenya and Finland.

The objective was to discuss the potential of the circular economy as an essential tool in a comprehensive and effective climate policy. During this event, eminent speakers were invited to discuss the potential of circular economy as an essential tool in a comprehensive and effective climate policy.

Janez Potočnik, IRP Co-Chair, presented several findings at this occasion:

Why are resources – and their management in a circular economy – essential to mitigating climate change?

According to the IRP Global Resources Outlook 2019, over 50% of global GHG emissions are caused by natural resources extraction and processing.

The traditional approach of ‘cleaning up’ production is missing an important part of policy potential and will likely never reach net-zero emissions by 2050. This is mainly because:

  • Some technologies are still in development and won’t be deployable fast and wide enough,

  • Some of the emissions do not come from energy but inherent chemical reactions,

  • An increase in renewable energy production will in itself require large amounts of materials, also rare materials.

In a business-as-usual scenario, global material demand is projected to double by 2060 and there is no way to decarbonize all that production in time and without massive trade-offs. We need to reduce the need for new materials while taking into account that countries in need of developing their basic infrastructure will still have to increase their use. 

How could we reduce these impacts in an integrated manner?

The most effective way is to start at the end where the product systems meet the societal need. Natural resources management and circular economy have an important role to play in this regard. Let’s take the examples of buildings and mobility:

  • Cities can become more compact with buildings more space and material efficient at high living quality.

  • Transport can become shared, connected and more integrated, to avoid cars standing around empty and clogging traffic, and to save massive amounts of materials.

There is a synergy between systemic dematerialization measures and operational energy use. Cities designed for systemic material efficiency will have more compact neighborhood, space-efficient buildings, shorter commutes and fewer cars. All of these reduce material consumption, but it also reduces the need for heating or fuel use. A double win for climate and a double chance for humanity to win the climate change battle.

How can circular economy/resources management approach inspire better governance? 

Too many times our policy focus is on impacts and consequences rather than on drivers and pressures causing them. At the very heart of the resource management approach is the idea of understanding drivers of impacts. In governance, the logic should be the same. It would help if environmental policymakers would join forces with those in charge of the economic and social incentives that shape the production and consumption. We need something like a ‘circular update’ to the governance. 

What to call for at the World Circular Economy Forum in April, and all the way to COP26 in Glasgow, to make a real difference? 

We do need a global forum, where those with direct policy influence on the resource drivers are obliged to become part of the search for solution efforts. The Global Alliance on Circular Economy and Resource Efficiency, recently established, could be an excellent base and a real drive in this direction. We need a formal and public process, which will make sustainable resources management the responsibility of all ministries, international institutions and stakeholders.

We have a unique chance and an enormous responsibility to recover better. And circular economy is an essential ingredient if we want to succeed. 

Access Janez Potočnik’s full speech

Access Janez Potočnik’s blog post on the Green Growth Knowledge Platform

Watch the full webinar