The need for broadening mitigation strategies
This blog article has been written by Detlef van Vuuren, the scientific leader of CIRCOMOD, a professor in Integrated Assessment of Global Environmental Change at the Faculty of Geosciences, Utrecht University and a senior researcher at PBL Netherlands Environmental Assessment Agency.
The Paris climate agreement has set a goal of keeping global warming well below 2 degrees and preferably below 1.5 degrees Celsius in order to protect our planet from extensive climate damage. To achieve this, it is necessary to reduce emissions drastically and rapidly. In fact, to stay below 1.5 degrees with a 50% chance, the maximum amount of CO2 emissions that can still be emitted is today less than 400 GtCO2. As global emissions are currently above 40 GtCO2 per year, without rapid reductions, the 1.5-degree target will be exceeded in less than a decade, while even the ‘well-below-2-budget’ would be exceeded in only a little more than 2 decades. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) has assessed a range of scenarios that are consistent with Paris goals. Typically, these scenarios consider rapid efficiency improvement, decarbonization of energy supply, land-use change, and all kinds of technology solutions to reduce greenhouse gas emissions (including so-called carbon-dioxide removal technologies). Clearly, such measures are essential for achieving the goal of limiting global warming to 1.5°C above pre-industrial levels by 2100, but the scenarios also illustrate how incredibly tight the situation has become. It is, therefore, critical to consider all options.
The concept of circular economy has been proposed as an innovative solution to reduce the exhaustion of all kinds of resources that human society relies upon. This can be done by creating a closed-loop system where resources are reused and recycled instead of being discarded after one use. Moreover, it also aims to reduce material use by using them more efficiently and redesigning different products (e.g., using less steel in cars by substitution or by using smaller cars). The idea is to create a sustainable system that will help us preserve our natural resources for future generations and reduce waste. As the extraction of primary materials such as iron ore to produce steel not only exhausts primary resources, but also involves the use of massive amounts of energy, circular economy strategies can also help to achieve climate goals. In this context, it is important to note that globally, producing goods (by industries) is responsible for around 30% of greenhouse gas emissions.
So far, the impact of circular economy measures has hardly been assessed in climate policy scenarios. To improve this, the CIRCOMOD project brings together specialists in material flow analysis and industrial ecology, economists and researchers working on climate policy scenarios. Together, they aim to develop a new generation of models and scenarios that integrate circular economy strategies into climate policy strategies. This would not only allow for keeping the Paris targets in sight but also to develop of mitigation strategies that rely less on other (controversial) technologies, such as carbon-dioxide removal. The CIRCOMOD project started in June 2022 and will run until 2026.
Obviously, for such an ambition – all help is welcome. The CIRCOMOD consortium is very open to possible collaboration with other research organizations or other stakeholders. Moreover, the consortium intends to share all insights and data with the research community to make speed up the progress of the research community – so watch this website! We are in need for speed, as indicated above, we are running out of time both on climate goals and preserving resources.