Ph: Gus Moretta | Unsplash Photo Community
A pressing question lies at the heart of our current research: Can materials play a decisive role in either advancing or hindering our efforts to achieve the goals of climate change mitigation? This question takes on even greater significance in light of the central aims of the circular economy: the minimization of waste and the conservation of natural resources. While these goals are intrinsically consistent with the principles of sustainable development, it is important to note that circular economy strategies and policies may not always align with those of decarbonization.
A possible way to investigate such interactions between circular economy and climate change is by relying on Integrated Assessment Models (IAMs). These models are computational tools that aim to depict possible decarbonization avenues by modelling low carbon mitigation options and their effect across economic, energy and land use sectors. They play a crucial role in assessing the impact of climate policies, and facilitating communication policymakers (1).
IAMs strategies for mitigating climate change rely heavily on advancing low-carbon technologies such as the adoption of renewable technologies and carbon dioxide removal technologies (CDRs), which may increase demand for non-fossil materials and metals, potentially affecting the effectiveness of decarbonization measures.
In this sense, the circular economy offers measures to reduce raw material demand, energy consumption, and emissions. However, IAMs often fail to capture the complex relationships among products, services, and their impact on material demand, energy consumption, and emissions, limiting their focus mainly to recycling and reuse.
Therefore, integrating broader circular economy aspects into material demand projections is promising for IAMs. This integration can assess how consumer actions contribute to climate change targets and reduce reliance on carbon-negative solutions.
This is precisely where RFF-CMCC takes a stand. We aim to deepen our understanding of the complex relationships that exist between circular economy measures and climate change mitigation from a consumer perspective, and how these measures can be assessed in integrated assessment models.
(1) van Beek, L., Hajer, M., Pelzer, P., van Vuuren, D. & Cassen, C. Anticipating futures through models: the rise of Integrated Assessment Modelling in the climate science-policy interface since 1970. Global Environmental Change 65, 102191 (2020).