According to a new report from Zero Waste Europe (ZWE) and Eunomia Research & Consulting, the current strategies in the materials production sectors are insufficient to meet climate targets, and should therefore be rethought.
That sector is responsible for some 25% of global emissions, the authors write, with as biggest contributors the aluminium, concrete, steel and plastics industries. The production of these four materials alone is currently responsible for 78% of GHG emissions from the material production sector.
In short, what this means is, that reducing emissions from materials production, and particularly from these four industries, can significantly impact the overall emissions rate worldwide.
In 2015, world leaders agreed to keep warming to within 1.5°C above pre-industrial levels which would limit the worst environmental effects such as floods, droughts, extreme heatwaves, food scarcity and biodiversity loss.
According to this latest research, a business-as-usual approach to materials production, which accounts for a quarter of global emissions, could contribute to warming of up to 2.5 oC.
“For the plastics industry alone, this could be as high as 3.5 oC,” the authors state.
There is an urgent need for action, amongst others in the form of policy mechanisms to promote the implementation of sector-specific measures to accelerate reductions in greenhouse gas emissions. Included among the recommendations contained in the report are replacing net zero targets with 1.5 oC-aligned carbon budgets, although the setting of these in an equitable way will be a key part of the challenge; and the need for faster action. As the report points out, by 2040, most if not all interventions must have reached maturity and market saturation across all material sectors. This will likely mean that any significant policies that will drive these changes should be in place by 2030 at the latest.
Failure to act soon could mean exhausting the remaining carbon budget, the maximum amount of CO2 that can be released and still limit global warming to 1.5°C, by as early as 2028, the report warns. However, remaining within its carbon budget will be a significant challenge for the plastics industry as a drastic shift away from fossil fuels to alternative feedstocks is needed.
“The only way forward is to reduce resource consumption, particularly in the Global North,” said Joan Marc Simon, Executive Director of Zero Waste Europe. ”Businesses, governments and civil society should come together and act urgently to make the best of resources available and deploy proven technologies to decarbonise the economy.”
Eunomia’s Simon Hann, lead author of the research, said that while much is heard about the importance of keeping to 1.5oC, ‘this essential piece of work helps to demonstrate what that could mean in practice for the materials we all consume’.
“Slowly decarbonising for the next 30 years is evidently not enough and there is a clear need to change the way we think about material production and consumption.”