Producing and consuming materials to build homes and passenger cars more efficiently could help to significantly reduce emissions across the G7 member states.
That’s according to new analysis by the International Resource Panel (IRP), which suggests CO2 equivalent emissions could be reduced by up to 25 gigatons between 2016 and 2060 across Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, the UK and the US.
It found emissions from the production of materials like metals, wood, minerals and plastics more than doubled over the 20-year period to 2015, accounting for almost one quarter of all greenhouse gas emissions.
It warns that without boosting material efficiency, it will be “almost impossible and substantially more expensive” to keep global warming to below 1.5°C.
The construction and manufacturing sectors together account for an estimated 80% of emissions generated by the first use of materials.
The report suggests G7 countries could save up to 170 million tons of carbon emissions from residential homes in 2050 using strategies and technologies that already exist.
India could also save around 270 million tons and China could save 350 million tons during the same period.
The carbon footprint of the production of materials for cars could be reduced by up to 70% in G7 countries, 60% in China and 50% in India in 2050 with greater material efficiency.
Material efficiency strategies could help G7 nations, China and India cut emissions by up to 450 million tons each in 2050, in addition to helping them stay within their carbon budget.
It says the most promising strategies include more intensive use of space, switching out concrete and masonry for sustainably produced wood, improving recycling and building lighter homes using less carbon-intensive steel, cement and glass.
The report found cutting demand for floor space in the G7 by up to 20% could lower greenhouse gas emissions from the production of materials by up to 73% in 2050.
These reductions are in addition to emission savings generated by the decarbonisation of electricity supply, the electrification of home energy use and the shift towards hybrid and electric vehicles (EVs).
Inger Andersen, UNEP’s Executive Director said: “Our strategies to tackle climate change have focused largely on improving energy efficiency and accelerating use of renewable energy. But paying greater attention to circularity, sustainable consumption and production and resource efficiency can radically improve our ability to meet the Paris Agreement goals.”