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Circular Economy Could Cut Global Emissions by 39%

A Canadian think tank is urging the country to adopt the principles of the circular economy to reduce waste and meet its climate goals.

“The circular economy isn’t just a zero-waste goal—it should be critical to Canada’s action on climate,” write Stephanie Cairns and Alice Irene Whittaker of the Smart Prosperity Institute in an op-ed for Corporate Knights. In fact, a circular economy would reduce global emissions by 39% of 2019 levels—sufficient to limit warming to below 2°C.

“Simply put, the circular economy is a model in which waste and pollution are designed out of the system,” write the authors. Noting that “the idea takes inspiration from the elegance of nature’s cycles and the wisdom of Indigenous worldviews,” they add that the benefits go far beyond emissions reductions: the reuse, refurbishment, and recycling the system demands create less dependence on the extraction of virgin materials and the concomitant harms done to ecosystems and biodiversity.

And then there is the business case for circularity. Citing predictions from the World Business Council for Sustainable Development and the global consultancy Accenture Strategy, Cairns and Whittaker warn that “accelerating demand for finite natural resources will lead to future shortages, rising prices, and supply chain interruptions.” Those factors “could put US$4.5 trillion of global economic growth at risk by 2030.”

With an eye on that risk, “fast-moving countries, led by the European Union members, China, and Japan, are positioning themselves to shield their citizens” by adopting “comprehensive strategies and policy frameworks that support resource efficiency, new business models, and supply chain collaborations.”

With this trend gaining worldwide traction, “it’s past time for Canada, too, to develop a national circular economy strategy that should fully reinforce our climate goals,” the authors write.

“In a rapidly changing global context of intersecting crises, transitioning to a circular economy can boost prosperity and keep Canada competitive globally while dramatically lessening environmental impacts.”