How resource efficiency in key materials can help cut CO2 emissions

How resource efficiency in key materials can help cut CO2 emissions

A new report explores a broad range of opportunities for reducing the impact of the four largest materials in terms of emissions (steel, plastics, aluminium, and cement) and two large use segments for these materials (passenger cars and buildings).

It finds that a more circular economy could make deep cuts to emissions from EU heavy industry by 2050, as much as 296 million tons of 530 million tons of CO2 per year. Making better use of the materials that already exist in the economy can take EU industry more than halfway towards net-zero emissions, and doing so often makes financial sense.

The report argues that additional strategies are needed to address the substantial process emissions from the production of materials such as steel, cement, plastics and aluminium.

This report takes a first step towards quantifying the potential for circular economy opportunities to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

It examines the key materials flows and value chains, identifies relevant circular economy approaches, this is the first attempt to quantitatively address this issue across materials and value chains, and for the entire EU economy.

This project has been carried out by Material Economics, with the support of Climate-KIC, ClimateWorks, Ellen MacArthur Foundation, Energy Transitions Commission, European Climate Foundation, MAVA Foundation, and SITRA.

The report – The Circular Economy – a Powerful Force for Climate Mitigation – argues that ‘materials efficiency’ deserves to be a priority in discussions of industrial decarbonisation, just as energy efficiency is a priority in discussions of transforming the energy system.

It explores a broad range of opportunities for the four largest materials in terms of emissions (steel, plastics, aluminium and cement) and two large use segments for these materials (passenger cars and buildings)The key conclusion is that a more circular economy can make deep cuts to emissions from heavy industry: in an ambitious scenario, as much as 296 million tonnes CO2 per year in the EU by 2050, out of 530 in total – and some 3.6 billion tonnes per year globally.

Demand-side measures thus can take us more than halfway to net-zero emissions from EU industry, and hold as much promise as those on the supply side. Moreover, they are often economically attractive. Opportunities for more productive use of materials therefore deserve a central place in EU climate policy. Much like improving energy efficiency is central to the EU’s efforts to achieve a low-carbon energy system, a more circular economy will be key to developing Europe- an industry while cutting its CO2 emissions.

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August 17, 2018
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