Recent research shows the global emissions gap could be cut in half by a new economic model.
Efforts to cut emissions and halt global warming at climate talks this week in Marrakech are “missing a trick” by ignoring new research that could revolutionise the way products are made and used, development aid agency Tearfund said today.
Governments could significantly cut emissions if they followed Japan and China's lead and embraced a new pioneering approach to economics, the agency said.
Creating what academics and businesses call “circular economies” could dramatically speed up the global transition to a zero-carbon world. Circular economics change the way we design, buy and use products, making the most of existing materials and resources.
Unless urgent action is taken, the world is heading for a temperature rise of 4°C this century. Existing commitments under the Paris Agreement to reduce greenhouse gases take us to 2.9 - 3.4°C, according to UNEP, which is around halfway to the target of 1.5°C. The circular economy could cut this remaining gap by half.
Tearfund’s Joanne Green said: “Governments are missing a trick if they fail to see the huge potential in the circular economy. Cutting out waste can create jobs and cut emissions and pollution at the same time. Many developing countries have an opportunity to build on their existing strength in the repair and reuse sectors to create an economy that’s much more efficient than Europe or the US.
“Pioneering new businesses are already using what is being wasted in order to turn a profit and provide employment. With global support, these examples could become the new business model.”
In Ghana, 200,000 people are employed in the Kumasi Industrial cluster, a major centre for automotive repair and remanufacturing. This figure has increased fivefold since the 1980s.
In North-Eastern Brazil, Tearfund partner Diaconia helps farmers to use anaerobic digestion technology to create renewable energy for cooking and fertiliser from animal waste. Northumbria Water are now using the same technology to create energy from sewage in the UK.
Ratoroi, a small Brasilian design company, employs artisan designers to make shoes, clothes and homeware using waste materials, such as second-hand shoes and plastic bags collected by local recycling cooperatives.
Each year, we extract roughly 60 billion tonnes of raw materials from the natural world. Most of our global carbon emissions are associated with digging them out of the ground and turning them into things we use. But not even a tenth of these products are recycled or reused. For example, recycling aluminium requires 95% less energy than producing the metal from scratch.
Nationally, both China and Japan have set ambitious targets for a circular economy, with legislation and results to match. In Japan, 98% of their metals are recovered and the reuse and recycling economy is worth around 8% of GDP. In China, the amount of material required to produce a dollar of GDP fell by a third between 2005 and 2013.
Green said: “Whether it’s fast fashion or a new smart phone every 18 months, we could all be helping to reduce the impact of global warming and extreme droughts, floods and cyclones on the poorest people around the world by using what we already have for longer. But governments should do much more to support manufacturers to create new business models by setting national targets, offering tax incentives and adopting pioneering policies on waste management.”
Joanne Green is available for interview. To organise an interview contact Anna Ridout at firstname.lastname@example.org or on +44 (0)7740 933518Notes to Editors
- Read Tearfund’s report on the Circular economy: Virtuous Circle: How the circular economy can create jobs and save lives in low and middle income countries, Tearfund’s report
- Find out more about the emissions gap here: Emissions Gap report, United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP)
- Further background: Circular Economy: A key lever in bridging the emissions gap to a 1.5 °C pathway, Ecofys report
Tearfund is a Christian relief and development agency and a member of the Disasters Emergency Committee (DEC).