UNEP Report Identifies Emissions Reductions Options in Cars, Homes
Photo Credit: Carlos Delgado
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Emissions from the production of materials as a share of global GHGs are equivalent to the share of GHG emissions from agriculture, forestry and land use change combined.

The report identifies significant opportunities for reducing GHG emissions associated with residential buildings and passenger cars.

Reducing the GHG emissions in the creation of homes and cars could reduce the cumulative life cycle of carbon dioxide equivalent emissions by up to 25 Gt in the G7 countries.

The UN Environment Programme (UNEP) has released a report that finds addressing emissions from the production of materials, such as plastics, minerals, metals and woods, offers a critical opportunity to contribute to achieving the Paris Agreement on climate change. The report identifies significant opportunities for reducing greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions associated with residential buildings and passenger cars.

UNEP’s International Resource Panel (IRP) produced the report titled, ‘Resource Efficiency and Climate Change: Material Efficiency Strategies for a Low-Carbon Future.’ It argues that policymakers should pay increased attention to material efficiency because emissions from the production of materials as a share of global GHGs are equivalent to the share of GHG emissions from agriculture, forestry and land use (AFLOU) change combined. Despite these emission levels, materials production has “received much less attention,” even though technologies to increase material efficiency are already available.

The report states that approximately 80% of emissions from materials production come from material use in construction and manufactured goods. The report focuses on the potential to reduce GHG emissions from the creation of homes and cars, the two most carbon-intensive products in the construction and manufacturing industry. GHG emissions reductions for homes and cars could reduce the cumulative life cycle of carbon dioxide equivalent emissions by up to 25 Gt in the Group of 7 (G7) countries.

In the G7 countries, for example, material efficiency strategies, including using recycled materials, could reduce GHG emissions in the material cycle of residential buildings by 80-100% in 2050. Meanwhile, material efficiency strategies could reduce GHG emissions from passenger cars by 57-70% in this same subset of countries. 

“Paying greater attention to circularity, sustainable consumption and production and resource efficiency can radically improve our ability to meet the Paris Agreement goals,” said the UNEP Executive Director.

The report highlights a number of strategies for reducing emissions, from designing buildings that use sustainably harvested timber and less material to improved recycling of construction material. Additional strategies include using less carbon-intensive steel, cement and glass in building homes, and opportunities for looking at the whole building life cycle. In total, the report states that using these strategies could contribute 5-7 Gt of carbon dioxide equivalent emissions in the period 2016-2050 in G7 countries. UNEP Executive Director Inger Andersen explained that strategies to address climate change have primarily focused on accelerating renewable energy use and improving energy efficiency but stressed that “paying greater attention to circularity, sustainable consumption and production (SCP) and resource efficiency can radically improve our ability to meet the Paris Agreement goals.” 

The report further recommends policy interventions to promote material efficiency benefits. Building codes and standards, for instance, could “encourage or constrain material efficiency.” The report therefore recommends cross-sectoral policies that revise building standards and codes, charge vehicle registration and congestion fees, and green public procurement and virgin material taxation, among other revisions. The report suggests evaluating policies on a life cycle basis to identify synergies and trade-offs across life cycle stages and industrial sectors.

The report further recommends policymakers integrate material efficiency into their nationally determined contributions (NDCs) to set higher emission targets. To date, the report finds that only China, India, Japan and Turkey identify circular economy, material efficiency, resource efficiency or consumption-side instruments as mitigation measures in their NDCs. [UNEP Press Release] [Report Landing Page] [Publication: Resource Efficiency and Climate Change: Material Efficiency Strategies for a Low-Carbon Future]

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