Posted on 5th November 2021
On the 4th November 2021, Ireland’s much anticipated Climate Action Plan 2021 was released, under the backdrop of COP26, the UN Climate summit held in Glasgow. The plan is home to 475 actions across priority areas, from the just transition to citizen engagement and for sectors including electricity, built environment, transport and agriculture.
The plan’s dedicated chapter on Circular Economy highlights the significant recent progress in developing circular economy policies, legislation and actions in Ireland. However, it also shows that waste generation is increasing while recycling rates decline, meaning that emissions from waste management are growing. Worryingly, the ambition in the Climate Action Plan to make greenhouse gas savings from waste management has weakened – whereas the Government’s previous aim was to cut emissions by half, it is now expected that emissions will fall by only 15% by 2030.
More importantly, how we manage our resources touches on more than just waste management, affecting all of the sectors in the Climate Action Plan. This is because the goods and consumables that we rely on every day such as our food, packaging, phones, clothes and buildings derive from raw materials. All of these are grown or extracted, processed and shipped to our warehouses and stores, generating greenhouse gases (GHG) through mining, agriculture, energy use, transport and other activities.
Globally, about 50% of total GHG emissions come from resource extraction and processing. To fully understand the magnitude of this issue, if food waste were a country, it would be the third largest global GHG emitter, behind China and the United States.
The circular economy aims to reduce the impact of food and products through improved design, using less, sharing, the rental economy, reusing, upcycling and repairing. It is a powerful example of how everything is interconnected and circular actions can provide GHG savings across the spectrum. We believe that more should be made of this ‘Circular’ link between the sectors highlighted in the plan along with the social, economic and environmental benefits of a more circular economy.
For example, agriculture is clearly an important focus of the Climate Action Plan 2021. Circular economy actions related to agriculture include food waste prevention (Ireland is committed to reducing food waste by 50% by 2030) and a greater focus on developing Ireland’s bioeconomy. By ensuring all food and food byproducts are valued we can reduce GHG emissions from agriculture and associated transport. However, this opportunity is overlooked in the agriculture chapter.
In other areas, the ambition for a circular economy needs to be expanded. The demand for minerals such as base metals for batteries and other components is expected to soar as we adopt electric vehicles, scooters, bikes and other green technology. A more circular approach will ensure that we do not continue to rely on raw material extraction in a manner that is both damaging and counterproductive to the development of low carbon transport.
These examples show how wide-ranging the impacts of a circular economy will be. They highlight the need for better ways to measure the impact of circular activities on GHG savings across different sectors. In this regard, the commitment in the Climate Action Plan to using data to better explore opportunities for efficiency is welcome.
Strengthening the connection between the circular economy and all sectors of society will also help to raise awareness, engage citizens and ensure that no areas are overlooked. This is a priority in the upcoming All of Government Circular Economy Strategy, which commits to the development of a circular economy public engagement platform. The aim of this platform would be to build awareness, facilitate training and networking and engage and inspire people to take action via a collaborative approach through online and offline targeted action. The development of the platform has been delayed, but will provide a much needed resource to complement the circular manufacturing platform delivered by Circuleire.
There is no doubt that the impacts of our consumption and waste patterns are complex and often confusing. With additional measurement and communications tools at our disposal, we believe the role of a more circular economy will become clearer and that we can make sure no opportunities are overlooked.