Greenhouse gas emissions in the built environment, mobility and food account for 75% of EU emissions

The linear model of “take, do, throw” must be kept in the background. Not only is it a wasteful model, but it is also a major contributor to climate change. And the latter’s costs to the world economy are projected to reach $ 54 trillion by the end of the century. But not only will it be an economic crisis, but there will also be social repercussions. Climate change mitigation and adaptation policies are therefore as essential to the future of the economy and society as they are to the environment.

The European Union (EU) is one of the world’s leading emitters of greenhouse gases (GHGs), according to the study ‘A low-carbon and circular industry for Europe‘, prepared by the Ellen Macarthur Foundation and the Institute for European Environmental Policy (IEEP). In 2017, the EU was responsible for 9.3% of global emissions, while its population represents only 5.7% of the planet. Despite this, it should be noted that, over the past three decades, the EU has reduced its GHG emissions by more than 20%. But if the 2030 target of a 55% to 60% reduction compared to 1990 levels is to be met, with a view to achieving carbon neutrality by 2050, the circular economy must become an essential part of policies and climate plans.

Other topics of interest: EU must double the capacity to recycle plastic if it is to meet the 2030 targets

Buildings account for 35% of EU emissions

Building materials account for 47% of the EU’s overall consumption. The way buildings are designed and built also influences their emissions. In fact, they are such energy consumers that they account for 40% of European block consumption and emit 35% of GHG emissions. Reducing the physical footprint of the EU-built environment must be part of efforts to tackle climate change.

Circular economy can reduce global CO2 emissions from major building materials by 40%

With the circular economy, CO2 emissions from the four major building materials (plastics, steel, aluminum and cement) can be reduced by 40% globally and by 56% in developed economies such as Europe by 2050. In particular, the most cost-effective strategies to mitigate emissions are increasing the use of buildings, with shared spaces, and reducing construction waste. To promote the recycling of these materials it is necessary to:

  • Create harmonized standards for secondary raw materials, material registers, taxonomy and reporting protocols.
  • Market-based instruments to make recycled materials economically attractive.
  • Public procurement requirements to guide public and private organizations towards the incorporation of reused and recycled materials in renovation and construction projects.

Multimodal mobility systems to reduce costs by up to 70%

The transport sector accounted for almost a quarter of EU GHG emissions in 2017. Only road transport accounted for 20%, making vehicles one of the main sources of climate impact in Europe, due to the fuel and exhaust gases.

It is even shocking to see some data related to mobility. The average European car is parked 92% of the time. When used, only 1.5 of its seats are occupied on average. Approximately 50% of the land in urban centers is used for parking and roads, although less than 10% of this area is used at any given time, even at rush hour. Reducing life cycle emissions from passenger cars and improving the use of mobility infrastructures is essential for the EU’s Smart and Sustainable Mobility Strategy and for meeting its climate targets.

Other topics of interest: What is the environmental footprint of the pandemic?

An integrated, multimodal and á la carte mobility system could reduce vehicle emissions by 70% worldwide by 2050

By switching to an integrated, multimodal and on-demand mobility system, vehicle-related emissions could be reduced by 70% worldwide by 2050. The integration of passenger cars into multimodal mobility systems, where different modes of transport can be shared as a service and designed to be durable, reusable and healthy, is an opportunity to reduce costs and emissions, improve accessibility and quality of life, and reduce pollution. Such a system could reduce the costs associated with the mobility of European households by up to 70% by 2050, while reducing the CO2 emissions associated with mobility by 40% by 2040.

Food consumption, 17% of GHG emissions

The EU wastes around 88 million tonnes of food per year, accounting for more than 20% of the total. At the same time, there are 43 million community residents who cannot afford a quality meal other day. Its production covers 40% of the EU’s land area. And consumption of these products accounts for 17% of European households’ greenhouse gas emissions. Thus, globally, agriculture is estimated to be responsible for up to 80% of biodiversity loss, 80% of deforestation and 70% of freshwater use.

The main sources of global food system emissions come from livestock and food cultivation, accounting for 9% to 14% of total emissions, followed by land-use practices, between 5% and 14%, and food processing, distribution and consumption, between 5% and 10%. As in previous cases, the transition to a circular food economy could generate global economic benefits of $2.7 trillion per year by 2050.

The regenerative agriculture, the disposal of avoidable food waste and the recovery of unavoidable food and biological waste in the form of compost and soil improvers could offset 49% of the GHG emissions associated with the food system by 2050, that is, 5.6 gigatonnes of CO2 equivalent per year.