| Circular, Sustainability

COP 28: Key takeaways and the global sustainability agenda for 2024

The COP 28 climate talks in Dubai last year marked a pivotal moment in the global fight against climate change, solidifying a welcomed agreement to move away from fossil fuels to align with 1.5°C pathways.

In this exploration of the key takeaways, Reconomy’s Heads of Sustainability Diane Crowe and Nathan Gray delve into the implications of the conference and get under the bonnet of what the agreement means for the global sustainability agenda in 2024.

At the core of COP 28’s success was the shared global commitment to urgently reduce greenhouse gas emissions, signalling a profound acknowledgment of the severity of the climate crisis. The agreement emphasises the need for immediate, collective action, challenging nations to collaborate in unprecedented ways to address this existential threat.

While the targets set by the agreement are equally ambitious and commendable, they also present significant challenges for businesses and economies, particularly against the backdrop of today’s turbulent economic climate.

With COPs and other global political events continuing to push regulatory change, businesses increasingly find themselves at a crossroads, tasked with uprooting and realigning their practices to keep up with the global shift towards circularity.

Circular initiatives, ranging from closed-loop recycling programs to sustainable sourcing are emerging as crucial strategies for companies to adopt. Beyond meeting compliance standards, these initiatives position businesses as responsible stewards of the environment, a quality increasingly valued by consumers and investors alike – driving numerous commercial benefits.

This dual benefit to businesses and the environment cannot be overstated at a time when certain parties seek to exploit divisions between economic growth and fighting climate change, between personal finances and sustainable change.

The message is clear: greater circularity is essential to drive short and long-term prosperity.

One of the pivotal aspects underscored in this global pact is the call for a stronger emphasis on responsible resource management. Beyond the imperative to reduce reliance on fossil fuels, there’s a resonating call for comprehensive waste reduction initiatives to maximise our valuable finite resources without expending them.

The important thing to note here from a business’ perspective is not just the positive environmental impact – although efficient waste management can significantly cut carbon emissions – contributing to a more sustainable future. These initiatives also benefit businesses through a saving on their bottom lines of at least 1% of turnover through waste minimisation initiatives. If this is compared to increasing a business’s sales to boost their profits, the long-term impact of waste minimisation in terms of cost savings and sustainability have far greater and more enduring benefits.

Within that context, businesses need more help and better infrastructure to help them deliver these operational shifts and become increasingly circular.

On a regulatory level, game-changing schemes are being introduced such as the Welsh workplace recycling regulations, Simpler Recycling, and Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR).

The latter requires producers to pay the entire cost of waste they produce throughout the item’s life including the cost of collection, treatment, and recycling minus the value received for that recycled material.

It aims to stimulate higher rates of recycling, encourage better behaviours and more sustainable materials, as well as investment in the infrastructure that will ultimately drive a virtuous loop of ever-increasing circularity.

Similarly, the Welsh recycling regulations mean that from 6 April 2024, it will become law for all businesses, charities, and public sector organisations in Wales to sort their waste for recycling. This will also apply to all waste and recycling collectors and processors who manage household-like waste from workplaces.

These policy changes mark a major step forward in driving more efficient ways of managing waste and the inevitable infrastructure improvements to meet sortation requirements that will come with it will pave the way for future technological innovations in the waste management sector.

Ultimately, COP 28 has provided fresh urgency for key stakeholders to accelerate policies that will promote the protection of the environment, minimise resource wastage and cut carbon emissions.

Amid the debate raging around energy usage following the war in Ukraine and politicking in the run up to the General Election, circularity and its tangible benefits to both businesses and the environment must remain front and centre of the climate fight. Moreover, as the global sustainability focus begins to widen from carbon emissions to resource management, the pursual of the circular economy will become increasingly urgent in the coming years.