Resource Use

Circular economy pivotal in climate change fight – Goodwin

Circular economy pivotal in climate change fight – Goodwin
Liz Goodwin, Chief Executive of WRAP
Better waste and resource management could keep global warming below two degrees Celsius, but its role has been underplayed in COP21 discussions, Liz Goodwin, CEO of the Waste & Resources Action Programme (WRAP) said today (19 January).

Goodwin suggested that reducing food waste, adopting healthy, sustainable diets, and providing better products were priorities in the move towards a circular economy in her speech at ‘Policy priorities for waste management in England: innovation, best practice and developing the circular economy’, an event held by the Westminster Energy, Environment and Transport Forum.

Commission ‘missed a trick’

Speaking as one of the keynote speakers at the event, which also featured Julius Langendorff, Deputy Head of the Waste Management and Recycling Unit in the European Commission’s (EC) Directorate-General for the Environment, SUEZ Recycling and Recovery UK CEO David Palmer-Jones and Resource Association Chief Executive Ray Georgeson, Goodwin criticised the EC’s failure to recognise the resource management industry’s potential role in climate change mitigation. 

She said: “I was surprised the commission neglected to make any mention of the circular economy in its Intended Nationally Determined Contributions submission which formed the basis of the COP21 discussions in Paris. 

“For all its good work and intentions, I think the European Commission missed a trick. Instead, it was left to China, the nation with the largest emissions footprint, to outline the climate benefits of the circular economy in the context of consumption and recycling.

“The resources sector has a big part to play in tackling greenhouse gas emissions, and the climate change debate. Experienced people in the sector like Ray Georgeson and David Palmer-Jones have the knowhow, and expertise to help this aim. Businesses like Unilever understand.

“So, together we know the importance of the circular economy. We know it helps preserve our environment in a world of dwindling resources, climate change, and population increases. We know it can boost the economy, and provide businesses with viable routes to secure a prosperous future. We know it provides positive benefits to society, through job creation, and securing a sustainable path for future generations – our loved ones.

“Yet we also know that many are still to be convinced of its merits. To be frank, at the moment we just don’t have enough buy-in from people. We need more buy-in from business, policymakers, and the general public. Only by working together, sharing expertise, knowledge, and communicating effectively, can we hope for change.”

Goodwin said that the circular economy and waste and resources agenda was virtually ignored during coverage of the agreement reached at COP21, included a pledge to keep the rise in global temperatures ‘well below’ two degrees Celsius.

Despite there being ‘barely a mention’ of what better use of resources could do to tackle greenhouse gases, Goodwin highlighted it could help keep emissions below the dangerous level.

Reducing food waste

Food waste alone accounts for eight per cent of global emissions, according to figures from the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO). And Goodwin says that reducing what we throw away and changing how we deal with waste could have a significant impact.

The European Commission’s Circular Economy Package has no binding food waste target and Goodwin admitted that it is “difficult to monitor progress against targets if there’s no accurate baselines and regular monitoring”. She said that she was therefore pleased that there was an “emphasis on measurement” in the package.

Globally, one third of all food is wasted (according to the FAO), and Goodwin urged the commission, in the absence of legislation, to turn to voluntary agreements.

She pointed to the example of the Courtauld Commitment, and the role it played in reducing food waste in the UK, and voluntary agreements to tackle waste in other areas such as the Sustainable Clothing Action Plan (SCAP) 2020.

Adopting healthy sustainable diets

Secondly, Goodwin proposes “a diet where we rethink the sources of protein we consume, and limit intake to 2,100 calories a day”.

She added: “Rebalancing our diets to broaden the protein sources we consume, for example more pulses and microproteins, could reduce pressure on land and aquatic environments and therefore [help] to feed a growing population and lowering emissions.”

Providing better products

Lastly, Goodwin stressed the role that making ‘better’ products that are more reparable, durable and recyclable could play in reducing emissions. This action to use resources more efficiently is a part of the European Commission’s Circular Economy Package in the Ecodesign Working Plan.

As well as ‘rethinking business models’ so that products are made to last, Goodwin said consumers should have the opportunity to easily exchange unused and unwanted products, citing the example of the ‘gadget trade-in business model’, an initiative set up by Argos through working with WRAP.

Benefits of the circular economy for the UK and Europe

Goodwin states that the circular economy could bring 12,000 people out of unemployment. According to WRAP, in London alone, as many as 40,000 jobs could be created by 2030. She added that ‘nationwide that figure increases to 200,000 jobs’ and ‘three million jobs across Europe’.

Finishing her speech, Goodwin said: “The Circular Economy Package from the European Commission gives us a framework to start from. We must keep up momentum, to communicate the benefits of the circular economy. The resource sector interfaces with a variety of businesses, so we must take these opportunities to make the business case for change.”

For more information, the agenda is available to download on the Westminster Energy, Environment and Transport Forum website

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