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The Ellen MacArthur Foundation has launched a new paper, in collaboration with Material Economics, revealing the need for a fundamental shift in the global approach to reach climate targets

The UK-based charity, whose mission is to accelerate the transition to a circular economy to tackle the world’s most significant challenges, says it is vital to move beyond the current focus on renewable energy as a solution to climate change.

As set out in Completing the Picture: How the Circular Economy tackles Climate Change, moving to renewables can only address 55% of global greenhouse gas emissions. To achieve UN climate goals, the paper highlights the urgent need to tackle the remaining 45%.

The paper demonstrates the potential of the circular economy in tackling these overlooked emissions. To illustrate this potential, the paper looks at five key areas to demonstrate this – steel, plastic, aluminium, cement and food.

Adopting a circular economy framework in these areas can achieve a reduction totalling 9.3 billion tonnes of greenhouse gases in 2050. This is equivalent to eliminating current emissions from all forms of transport globally.

These examples provide a clear message to other industries – such as fashion, electronics, and packaging – of the value the circular economy can offer.

Diet shift, emerging innovations, and carbon capture and storage are the final pieces required to complete the picture of how the world can achieve net-zero emissions by 2050.

By releasing the paper, the Ellen MacArthur Foundation said it sought to bring an important missing piece to climate change solutions, demonstrating how businesses, financial institutions, and policymakers can build a thriving and resilient economy while playing an essential role in combating climate change.

“Switching to renewable energy plays a vital role in addressing climate change, but this alone will not be enough. In order to achieve targets on climate, it is critical that we transform how we design, make, and use products, and food. Completing the picture through a transition to a circular economy can enable us to meet the needs of a growing global population, while creating a prosperous and resilient economy that can run in the long term,” said Dame Ellen MacArthur, founder of the Ellen MacArthur Foundation.

The Paris Agreement calls for net-zero emissions by 2050 to limit temperature increase to 1.5℃. Whilst the circular economy is underpinned by renewable energy, the paper also demonstrates the crucial role the food sector and key industry sectors can play in reducing emissions to meet that target.

“This paper shows that transitioning to a circular economy is not only an opportunity to tackle emissions across sectors, but to design an economy that is restorative and regenerative, creating benefits for society, businesses, and the environment,” Dame Ellen added.

Christiana Figueres, former Executive Secretary of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change and Founding Partner, Global Optimism said: “Carbon constraints actually represent huge ingenuity opportunities. That is true for every company, for every city and any country. That is the direction in which we need to move, and this report offers compelling figures to give confidence in our ability to optimize decarbonisation and economic development in mutual support of each other.”

The circular economy is based on three principles: design out waste and pollution, keep products and materials in use, and regenerate natural systems.

In addition to reducing emissions, the paper shows that the circular economy has the potential to increase resilience to the effects of climate change and contribute to the meeting of numerous UN sustainable development goals.

European Investment Bank’s president Dr Werner Hoyer recently commented: “Fighting global warming and environmental crises are the most urgent challenges of our time. Strengthening the circular economy is one of the most powerful tools in our arsenal. It will not only help achieve the Paris Agreement targets but also bring huge benefits for the economy and society.”

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