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The circular economy, new response to climate change mitigation?

A new study conducted by Material Economics, shows how circular business models, re-circulation of materials and greater material efficiency of products are the keys to build a competitive industrial economy with zero net emissions in Europe.

According to this study, the circular economy, defined as a “continuous positive development cycle that preserves and develops natural capital, optimizes resource yield and minimizes systemic risks through inventory and resource flow management“ by the Ellen MacArthur Foundation, would reduce global greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions and achieve the targets of the Paris Agreement.

This study is more than interesting, as the European Commission is currently reviewing its climate strategy, which will update the 2050 low-carbon economy roadmap drafted in 2011. Consensual sources of information such as the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), the Joint Research Centre (JRC) from the European Commission, the International Energy Agency (IEA) and the World Bank generally use production-based data to represent GHG emissions from different economic sectors. The report reveals indeed that 3,6 billion tonnes of industrial emissions could be avoided annually if businesses in the relevant sectors adopt circular operating models. A more circular economy could reduce EU industrial emissions from the production of steel, plastics, aluminium and cement by 56% by 2050. The circular economy is also at the heart of the European LIFE Programme for the Environment and Climate.

To achieve this objective, three types of circular strategies associated to each other have been envisaged to reduce EU industrial emissions: the reuse of different materials, the reduction of the amount of materials that are discarded in the manufacturing or construction process, the creation of new business models that reinvent the way we provide services and goods. In practice, these broad strategies translate into a wide range of measures: changes in product design and materials choice, improved technology, modernized value chains, etc.

The benefits of circular approaches are strengthened by the fact that many of these measures are complementary and that many of these abatement opportunities are economically attractive. A more circular economy would have many other benefits as well, such as reduced geopolitical risks, local job creation, lower air pollution, and reduced water use.

The European Commission’s talks on its climate strategy are still underway, the aim being to adopt final agreements as soon as possible so that Member States can strengthen their resilience to climate change.


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