Humanity lives beyond the resources the world gives us. Our use of limited resources continues in an upward spiral and as a result, the world continues to warm. We are running out of time to rectify this situation.
Since the Covid-19 outbreak in March 2019, humanity has begun to wake up. The pandemic has exposed the fragility of our current linear system. This 2021 edition of the Circularity Gap Report quantifies the enormous synergetic and transformational power the circular economy has for the climate mitigation agenda. Closing both gaps together will put us firmly back on the Paris Agreement's goal: limiting warming to well below 2 degrees Celsius.
100 billion tons of material enter the global economy every year. These materials are poured into our economy and allow us to get on with our lives. However, only 8.6% of this huge amount is returned to the economy. For at least the last 200 years, the hallmark of global consumption and resource use can aptly be described as a 'buy-and-go: a linear economy'. While this model has enabled tremendous growth, a defining feature has been overconsumption, which has unfortunately harmed planetary health. In addition, although it has brought prosperity to some of the population, sometimes global social equality has also been adversely affected. While linear overconsumption has become the norm in many parts of the world, even minimum living standards are not being met elsewhere.
For the first time in 2017, we crossed the threshold of human activities that cause 1 degree of global warming. It reached 1.1 degrees in 2020. It has broken records in the last 5 years in a row to date, and the global increase in temperatures is expected to reach 3.2 degrees Celsius this century. In a 3-degree warming situation, the world risks suffocating in extreme climatic conditions such as floods, droughts, and wildfires, all of which displace populations and increase food insecurity.
However, globally coordinated action has been taken on climate degradation. According to the United Nations Climate Change, in 2015; 196 countries signed the Paris Agreement. Worldwide climate action identified: mitigating climate change by limiting the average global temperature rise this century to well below 2 degrees Celsius; Actions such as support for low-income countries and transparent reporting of climate targets were taken. However, we can understand from the data in the report that the plans prepared in the form of national climate promises (NDCs) for the world are well below the 2-degree target.
All in all, 2021 has been a crucial year for climate action, and most importantly, the decisions we make this year will shape our future climate.
CIRCULAR ECONOMY AS A RESULT TOOL
Humanity now finds itself at a historic economic and cultural crossroads. Do we continue to tweak and tamper with our distorted linear model, being aware of the consequences and being responsible by default? Or are we moving to a new model like the circular economy with fresh minds and new tools to sustain a desirable and achievable paradigm shift?
The circular economy holds promise for the systemic transformation of our society as it designs essential waste and pollution, keeps products and materials in use, and rebuilds natural systems. However, the circular economy is also an agenda of action with an expanding effect. This goes far beyond resource efficiency.
As a multi-stakeholder model, its systems-oriented approach enhances its capacity and ability to serve universal societal needs. This circular framework is aligned with a more resource-friendly, people-centered vision of the future. But getting there won't be easy.
A full circular transition requires creative innovation in systems design and rigorous collaboration between multiple stakeholders within and across value chains. Change can be difficult, but necessary. Closing the Circularity Gap serves the goal of preventing further and accelerated environmental degradation and social inequality. The circular economy is a critical path as we move the world towards a functioning space that is ecologically safe and socially just for humanity.
The Circularity Gap 2021 report found that the vast majority (70%) of emissions were associated with material handling and use, demonstrating the clear and necessary role of circular economy strategies in reducing emissions, aiming to do more with less.
AIMS OF THE CIRCULARITY GAP REPORT 2021
Illustrate and quantify the mutually reinforcing relationship of the circular economy and the climate mitigation agenda.
Demonstrate the power of circular economy strategies to close the Circularity Gap and the Emissions Gap and help us reach the goals of the Paris Agreement.
Accordingly, identify key interventions for impact, based on the needs of society, that are resource-smart and low-emission.
Identify how our scenarios can be tailored to national levels to inform goal-setting and NDC revision.
Identify key pathways for three distinct country profiles to transition towards the safe and just space.
SEVEN SOCIETAL NEEDS & WANTS
HOUSING: Representing the largest resource and emissions footprint, the need is for the construction and maintenance of housing, particularly in low-income countries.
NUTRITION: The need for nutrition, which includes agricultural products such as crops and livestock, also has a large footprint. In our economy, short-lived food products are consumed rapidly after production.
MOBILITY: Our need for mobility takes up a significant resource and emissions footprint. In particular, two types of resources are used: transportation technologies and materials for building vehicles such as cars, trains, and airplanes; plus, predominantly fossil fuels burned to power them.
CONSUMABLES: Consumables are a diverse and complex group of products that often have short to medium lives, such as refrigerators, clothing, cleaning agents, and paints. Textiles, including clothing, also consume different resources such as cotton, synthetic materials such as polyester, dye pigments, and chemicals.
SERVICES: The provision of services to the community ranges from education and public services to commercial services such as banking and insurance. The material and emissions footprint is modest overall and typically includes the use of professional equipment, office furniture, computers, and other infrastructure.
HEALTH: With an expanding, aging, and, on average, more prosperous population, healthcare services are increasing globally. Buildings aside, typical resource groups include the use of capital equipment such as x-ray machines, medications, hospital equipment (beds), disposables, and home care equipment.
COMMUNICATION: From personal mobile devices to data centers, communication enabled by a variety of equipment and technology is becoming an ever more important aspect of today's society. Increased connectivity is also an enabler of the circular economy, where digitization can make physical products redundant or make much better use of existing assets, including consumables, building stock, or infrastructure.
DISRUPT: KEY ELEMENTS OF THE CIRCULAR ECONOMY
The circular economy assumes dynamic systems, a process of transformation rather than a specific end-point. The DISRUPT model gives it direction.
Design For the Future: Adopt a systemic perspective during the design process, to employ the right materials for an appropriate lifetime and extended future use.
Incorporate Digital Technology: Track and optimize resource use and strengthen connections between supply-chain actors through digital, online platforms, and technologies.
Sustain & Preserve What’s Already There: Maintain, repair, and upgrade resources in use to maximize their lifetime and give them a second life through take-back strategies, where applicable.
Use Waste as a Resource: Utilise waste streams as a source of secondary resources and recover waste for reuse and recycling.
Prioritise Regenerative Resources: Ensure renewable, reusable, non-toxic resources are utilized as materials and energy in an efficient way.
Team Up to Create Joint Value: Work together throughout the supply chain, internally within organizations and with the public sector to increase transparency and create shared value.