Circle Economy

Aug 17, 2021

9 min read

Preparing for COP26: How circular are current national climate pledges and how can they be improved?

By Laxmi Haigh (Lead of Editorial) and Matthew Fraser (Lead of the Circularity Gap Reporting Initiative)

Photo by Vladislav Klapin on Unsplash
In our 2020 analysis, we took 176 countries and scored them on their social performance and ecological footprint to assess how far they were from the end goal: a socially just and ecologically safe space. Countries’ fall into three broad profiles: Build, Grow and Shift.

Different countries, different responsibilities — and actions to prioritise

The most recent IPCC report has been dubbed ‘a code red’ for humanity — but it does say that catastrophe can be avoided if the world acts fast with deep cuts in GHG emissions. But current national climate pledges are not enough. If we continue as we are, we will remain on course for rises in emissions and average temperatures up to 2.4-degrees — surpassing the 1.5-degree goal of the Paris Agreement.

Countries such as Bangladesh are under various climate change threats: sea-level rise, erosion, crop failures and more. Photo by fardouse lomat jahan rumpa on Unsplash

Shift countries’ NDCs need to be more ambitious

Shift countries consume a vast volume of resources and produce large amounts of waste and emissions, falling far outside of healthy planetary boundaries. Many of the social and environmental externalities that result from Shift countries’ actions occur elsewhere — indicating that nations in this profile must take greater responsibility for their consumption and emissions. Most Shift countries are among the highest global emitters and, arguably, the burden of climate mitigation should fall on their shoulders. Despite this, Shift NDCs are quite vague, and many countries in the profile are not on track to meet their rather loosely defined goals.

Norway, which is only 2.4% circular, also submitted a stronger NDC target to cut emissions by at least 50% by 2030. Photo by Vidar Nordli-Mathisen on Unsplash

Scattered commitment across Grow countries’ NDCs

Grow countries have experienced rising levels of industrialisation, as well as higher living standards in recent years. This profile’s resource use is characterised by fast economic growth — and material consumption increasing in tandem. Sustainable growth must, therefore, focus on using natural capital more efficiently, as well as further developing human capital. The NDCs of Grow countries are generally strong, characterised by a solid level of detail in their emissions mitigation plans. Key strategies for Grow countries in ramping up their NDCs will include incorporating circular design in construction, with a focus on public procurement, and safeguarding their biomass.

Grow countries are rapidly industrialising and expanding. However, one of the biggest emitters in the profile — Brazil — have not yet submitted NDC revisions ahead of COP26. Photo by Vanessa Bumbeers on Unsplash

Despite low-emitter status, Build countries NDCs prove ambitious

Build countries are resource-rich and place a high focus on the extraction and sale of raw materials, but fall short in HDI indicators like education and healthcare. The good news: they have yet to build up much of their infrastructure, presenting a key opportunity to embed circularity in their practices and NDC pledges surrounding biomass, construction, mobility and waste management.

Build countries’ NDCs already showcase strong ambitions — such as Ethiopia, which has also delivered substantial revisions in its NDC. Photo by Yonatan Tesfaye on Unsplash

All eyes on COP26

The delay of the ‘pivotal’ UN climate conference, COP26, to November 2021, provides country leaders with an extended opportunity to update their climate pledges. However, the path each country takes must be tailored to its local context, as well as historical responsibility for emissions.