Global consumption is at 100bn tonnes of materials a year for the first time ever, but reuse of resources has gone into reverse.
The Circularity Gap Report 2020 finds that the world’s economy is now only 8.6% circular – of all the minerals, fossil fuels, metals and biomass that enter it each year just 8.6% are reused. This has fallen from 9.1% in the two years since the annual report was first launched in 2018.
Circle Economy’s CEO, Harald Friedl, said: “We risk global disaster if we continue to treat the world’s resources as if they are limitless. Governments must urgently adopt circular economy solutions if we want to achieve a high quality of life for close to 10 billion people by mid-century without destabilising critical planetary processes.”
Marc de Wit, lead author, said: “This report shows that no country is meeting the basic needs of its citizens while also operating within the physical boundaries of our planet. We are all developing countries, we all need to get to an ecologically safe and socially just future, but there are different pathways according to the type of challenges we face.”
Findings from the report
The report finds that total resources entering the global economy have increased by 8.4% in just two years from 92.8 billion tonnes in 2015 to 100.6 billion tonnes in 2017, the latest year for which data is available.
In that period total extracted resources have increased by 9%, from 84.4 to 92 billion tonnes. But the total of materials that are reused has grown by just 3%, from 8.4 to 8.65 billion tonnes, and fallen as a proportion of overall material use.
A number of major international businesses, charities and NGOs have expressed their support for the report, including the government of Chile, WWF, Philips and the UN Environment Programme International Resource Panel.
Carolina Schmidt, minister for the environment at the government of Chile, said: “The series of Circularity Gap reports have been illuminating, as they’re showing us the – distressing – tendency of the past years. This third report sparks an alarm for all governments; we need to deploy all the array of policies to really catalyse this transformation.”
Cristianne Close, leader at WWF Markets Practice, said: “Our current economic and financial systems are driving unsustainable consumption and degrading the natural environment. The circular economy provides a tangible framework for reducing our impacts, protecting ecosystems and living within the means of one planet.”
Frans van Houten, CEO at Royal Philips, said: “Countries, cities and businesses can step up as change agents to accelerate circularity locally and globally. But, governments and businesses alike must engage in far-reaching, cross-border collaborations for circular value chains and climate neutrality.”
Circle Economy posits that countries are particularly well positioned to tackle the widening circularity gap, and calls on governments to establish national roadmaps for circularity. It says these can make their economies more competitive, improve living conditions and help to meet emissions targets and avoid deforestation.
It identifies different strategies for different countries based on the living standards of their population and their ecological footprint.
National strategies to improve living standards within ecological boundaries
The report says national governments are key to shifting from a linear to a circular economy. It calls on them to collaborate on circular strategies to measure and improve resource efficiency, to translate global trends into national roadmaps, and to work with businesses, NGOs and academics to drive action.
It classifies countries into three broad categories – Build, Grow and Shift – depending on the living standards of their population and their ecological footprint, and it identifies circular strategies for each grouping.
Build countries, such as India, Nigeria and the Philippines, where large parts of society still lack the means to satisfy their basic needs, must build up economic systems that are inclusive and sustainable.
Grow countries, such as China, Indonesia and Brazil, manufacture and process a large share of the goods consumed by the rest of the world. Their rapidly growing middle class drives global growth in consumption – household disposable income in China has more than doubled in the last 10 years.
Shift countries, such as member states of the EU, US and Japan, consume 10 times more resources per person than Build countries and produce very high volumes of waste. Much of their material consumption is imported, outsourcing the environmental impacts to Build and Grow countries. They need to shift to consuming resources efficiently in line with the planet’s resources, decarbonising their economies, and reducing soil and water pollution.
Circle Economy will officially launch the report during the World Economic Forum in Davos (21-24 January), an annual meeting which brings together some 2,500 politicians, business leaders and economists to discuss the most pressing issues facing the world today.