WRAP: huge lack of consistency in circular economy pledges in NDCs

recycling bottles

Climate action NGO WRAP says details of circular economy pledges made in Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs) are wildly inconsistent and range from undefined to more ambitious and comprehensive strategies, and that this inconsistency seriously risks undermining essential work on climate action. The organisation has highlighted its findings in CIRCULAR ECONOMY: FROM COMMITMENTS TO ACTION which appears to show that far too many countries are failing to take serious action on consumption-based emissions through NDCs linked to the circular economy.

Many countries now recognise that to put the world on a tract to net zero, we must accelerate the move to a more sustainable, resource-efficient circular economy, says WRAP. While 133 have committed to circular economy principles, many more Nationally Determined Contributions need clear goals and robust plans to reach these. WRAP found that as of October 2022, only 79 countries have directly committed to adopting a circular economy through their NDCs.

WRAP is calling on all countries to robustly incorporate the circular economy into their NDCs, and to connect domestic economic, resource and waste policies to make the most productive use of goods and services.

The level of commitment WRAP found varies hugely with some countries committing to a circular economy, but with no further details on how this will be achieved. Some commitments are simply to ‘increase recycling’ with no target or plan for implementing it. But simply recycling will not be enough to achieve net zero. Others provide ambitious targets and comprehensive plans to reach a circular economy. The sectors included in these commitments also vary significantly, with most heavily focussed on the waste sector. Commitments were also made in construction, agriculture and tourism, depending on the priorities of the country and where it could make the biggest difference.

As a minimum, all countries must identify that circular economy is an area for action and reference this in their NDCs. After identifying the direction and aim, they must set out what is needed to support that aim and detail how they will support this with policy and strategy documents that detail how circular economy can be achieved in that country. Those seeking high ambition on circular economy should integrate specific targets and indicators related to circular economy into their NDCs.

But all should, at the very least, include general statements identifying the circular economy as an opportunity, and include actions relating to their engagement with this.

Why this matters?
It is only possible to tackle nearly half (45%) of total global emissions by changing the way we make and consume products and food. Renewable energy will only take us halfway to net zero and accelerating the growth of a circular economy and tackling our food systems are our biggest untapped opportunities to address the remaining half.

“Should the global population reach 9.6 billion by 2050, the equivalent of almost three planets could be required to provide the natural resources needed to sustain current lifestyles.” United Nations Sustainable Development Goal 12 Responsible Production & Consumption

“Globally, increasing trends in gross domestic product (GDP) per capita leading to increasing production and consumption of products and services remained the strongest direct driver of CO2 emissions in the last decade, followed by population growth.” Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC)

The 2021 Dasgupta review highlighted that if we are “to avoid exceeding the limits of what Nature can provide on a sustainable basis while meeting the needs of the human population, we cannot rely on technology alone: consumption and production patterns will need to be fundamentally restructured.”

This follows WRAP’s G7 report, which outlined seven strategies to tackle consumption-based emissions by G7 members, and a companion report of food waste prevention commitments made in NDCs.