COP26: To solve the climate crisis, we must transition to a circular economy


Climate change is one of the most defining issues of the 21st century. Now it is being hailed as a ‘make-or-break’ moment for the world, as society looks to meet climate goals to mitigate and avoid some of the worst impacts of climate change.


Held in Glasgow, Scotland, the COP26 summit brought heads of state and government together, along with business and civil society leaders, to accelerate action towards the goals of the Paris Agreement and the UN Framework Convention on climate change. The outcome was clear: the time for change must be now. 

As Sir David Attenborough said in his keynote speech: “We are already in trouble. The stability we all depend on is breaking. This story is one of inequality, as well as instability. Today, those who’ve done the least to cause this problem, are being the hardest hit. Ultimately, all of us will feel the impact, some of which are now unavoidable.”

COP26: Change today, for a better tomorrow 

The UK COP26 president, Alok Sharma, led two weeks of negotiations leading up to a consensus on urgently accelerating climate action. As the summit concluded, nearly 200 countries agreed to the Glasgow Climate Pact to “keep 1.5C alive” and finalized important outstanding elements of the Paris Agreement. 

There was also focus on action to address “coal, cars, cash and trees”, as Mr Sharma put it. In a COP summit first, there was an explicit plan to ‘phase down’ the use of coal, which currently accounts for 40 percent of all global CO2 emissions. Global leaders also promised to stop deforestation by 2030, while financial organizations agreed to support the funding of ‘clean, green’ technologies. 

There was also a wider commitment to accelerate the transition to 100 percent zero-emission cars and vans by no later than 2023 in leading markets.

In line with the ethos of COP26, TOMRA is increasingly integrating circular economy and sustainability targets into our own operations and solutions. 

Michel Picandet, executive vice president and head of TOMRA Food, attended the event with the World Business Council for Sustainable Development (WBCSD), which TOMRA has been a member of since November 2020. Michel’s key takeaways from the summit were: 

  • There is significant engagement from the private sector on reducing the impact of climate change
  • Better governance on articulating policies and business is now in operation 
  • There are still lots of non-binding agreements on many of the initiatives which have been discussed

A circular approach to reducing impacts of climate change 

With COP26 further advancing both our understanding of what is needed to tackle climate change and the public commitments to do so, more widespread adoption of circular economy is emerging as a key solution. Circular economy can reduce emissions from industry, land waste and agriculture. 

It enables us to rethink processes and choices that have caused current problems and address them before harm is done. This can help emissions be designed out before production even commences, as well as keeping products and materials in use. 

Currently, the extraction, production and end-of-life management of resources accounts for more than two-thirds of all greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions

Plastics is a key example of how material production and waste can impact the climate. According to CIEL, emissions from plastics production and incineration could account to 56 billion tons of carbon between now and 2050. This equates to between 10-13 percent of the entire remaining carbon budget. 

For plastics, a circular economy can help reduce this environmental impact. Keeping materials in a closed loop enables the plastic to stay at a high enough quality to be recycled and reused, and reduces the need to produce new material. 

Through enabling less material to be extracted from the earth and decreasing the need for material to be manufactured, it’s predicted that there would be 39 percent reduction in GHG emissions. 

087 503 Flakes in Hand


Green technologies to support climate change 

For change to happen, the right infrastructure is needed. At COP26, more than 40 global leaders agreed to work together to rapidly increase the uptake of clean technologies by imposing worldwide standards and policies. 

The initiative, known as the Glasgow Breakthroughs, has the objective to encourage global private investment in low-carbon technologies which help reduce the impact of climate change. 

TOMRA is a value-driven company, providing solutions that have applications across a wide range of sectors to drive resource optimization. We understand the need for and importance of green technologies. Our goal is to transform how we all obtain, use and reuse the world’s resources, enabling material to be kept in a closed loop, through innovation. Our technology enables materials to be handled responsibly which, in turn, helps reduce both waste and emissions.

This is a critical necessity to transition towards a resource-efficient, low-carbon, circular economy.

Technology alone is not enough to achieve a circular economy 

Technology can only get us so far though, and we understand that technology alone is not enough to create a closed loop. There needs to be collaboration across value chains to support COP26’s ambitions to combat climate change and transition to a circular economy 
In all sectors and industries companies must embed and integrate a closed-loop mind-set into both products and operations. We must look backwards and forwards across these value chains to ensure all stakeholders collaborate to drive change and enable a circular economy.

Governments must set enabling legislation and facilitate the introduction of infrastructure to allow sustainable practices to be adhered to when it comes to how waste is handled. Producers and manufacturers need to design waste out of products and packaging, while retailers must ensure resources are being handled responsibly and not wasted at the consumption stage.

With a holistic approach, establishing collaboration and partnerships across the value chain, equally ambitious goals can be achieved in addressing the environmental impact of resources, and support the global climate targets that were established in the Paris Agreement and solidified at COP26. 

COP26: Transitioning to a circular economy

Unifying heads of state and government, business and civil society leaders, the COP26 summit aimed to accelerate actions and reduce the impacts of climate change. 

As Sir David Attenborough said: “We are already in trouble”. Change is now more imperative than ever to decrease GHG emissions and reduce the impacts of climate change, but as it was also emphasized in Attenborough’s speech: “We must use this opportunity to create a more equal world and our motivation should not be fear, but hope. […] We are after all, the greatest problem solvers to have ever existed on Earth”.

To support this, transitioning to a circular economy for how we handle resources is critical. A widespread adoption of keeping materials in a closed loop across value chains can help carbon budgets be adhered to, rather than exceeded.

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