Aligning Net Zero goals with Circular Economy will reduce up to 50% of UK carbon emissions

AECOM-led Major Infrastructure – Resource Optimisation Group (MI-ROG), has published its fourth white paper, which focuses on the importance of implementing circular economy approaches in line with Net Zero goals.

As the UK transitions towards net zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050 and the country recovers from the COVID-19 pandemic, there have been recent calls to build back better, greener and faster. With infrastructure responsible for 16% of the UK’s total carbon emissions, as well as a further 37% often attributable to the materials and energy which are required to build, maintain and operate infrastructure, implementing circular economy approaches will offer significant opportunities. Not only will this heavily reduce emissions, it will also reduce overhead costs and support a more resilient supply chain.

It is also anticipated that adopting circular economy principles can significantly enhance productivity across the global construction industry and contribute a further £35bn to the UK economy by 2036 – particularly within the built environment in London. However, in order to achieve this and effectively drive circular economy approaches whilst meeting net zero targets, collaboration is key. With successful buy in from clients and value chains, infrastructure specialists will be better equipped to design sustainable yet effective new builds.

Where use of new materials is unavoidable, carbon reductions of around 50% can be achieved by using low-carbon materials throughout the design process. This will streamline delivery processes and minimise resource consumption. The UK Government’s Infrastructure Carbon Review identifies that carbon reduction opportunities are greatest at the beginning of the delivery process through the following themes: building nothing, building less, building clever and building efficiently.  The White Paper maps circular economy thinking to each of these themes and the primary outcome, which focuses on durability, longevity and adaptability whilst also meeting the needs of communities and the economy.

This report shows that the time to act is now: as we start our recovery from the coronavirus crisis, we have a real opportunity to build back better.

Robert Spencer, AECOM Director, Sustainable Development, UK and Ireland, said: “Infrastructure is often seen as the backbone of economic recovery, however, to ensure this is done mindfully, with a focus on legacy and resilience, we must encourage Circular Economy principles from the very beginning in both our design approach and delivery. By doing this, we can bring in innovative solutions and materials whilst significantly reducing costs and contributing to a stronger economy and more sustainable relationship with both nature and society.

“As we emerge from the current pandemic, it is crucial to ensure stakeholders, value chains and the sector as a whole come together to create a flourishing future for generations to come as this also has the potential to generate a wide range of new jobs across various sectors.”

Wayne Hubbard, Chief Executive at London Waste and Recycling Board (LWARB), said:  “The world has woken up to the climate crisis and there is growing awareness among policy makers, businesses and consumers that our ‘take, make, dispose’ model isn’t working. Most people think of energy and fuel consumption when they think about climate change – but only 55% of global carbon emissions come from those sources. The remaining 45% come from producing, using and disposing of the cars, clothes, buildings, food and other products we use every day; so we need a profound shift to a more resource-efficient low carbon approach if we’re to meet our challenging climate targets.

“This isn’t a choice between the environment and the economy: but it is a choice between the old linear, wasteful economy, and the new resilient and sustainable circular economy. Circular approaches could reduce global CO2 emissions by £40 – or 3.7 billion tonnes – by 2050, if applied to the production and use of cement, steel, plastic and aluminium; which shows what a significant opportunity circular economy strategies represent for infrastructure owners and operators who want to play their part in our vital transition to a net zero economy. This report shows that the time to act is now: as we start our recovery from the coronavirus crisis, we have a real opportunity to build back better.”

The full MI-ROG report can be accessed here.

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