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Improving material use and resource efficiency can reduce greenhouse gas emissions: UN science panel

According to the International Resource Panel, emissions from the production of materials as a share of global greenhouse gas emissions increased to 23 per cent in 2015 from 15 per cent in 1995. More than half of the emissions from materials is from direct material production processes.

, ET Bureau|
Dec 13, 2019, 11.39 PM IST
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Madrid: The impacts of climate change — heatwaves, droughts, excessive rain, snowfall and flooding — are becoming more frequent and intense. Further warming, which can potentially put millions at risk, needs to be prevented, and this will require countries to drastically reduce carbon pollution. But just moving away from using coal and gas for energy will not be enough, more so for developing countries such as India.

Improving material use and resource efficiency is an untapped, costeffective and equitable way to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, according to the United Nations Environment Programme’s science panel, the International Resource Panel.

For a country like India where emissions will increase, though the rate of emission growth will be slower, as it develops, resource efficiency provides the pathway for a competitive industry, job creation, economic growth and sustainable development while reducing the environmental impact.

According to the International Resource Panel, emissions from the production of materials as a share of global greenhouse gas emissions increased to 23 per cent in 2015 from 15 per cent in 1995. More than half of the emissions from materials is from direct material production processes. Energy supply for the entire value chain accounts for 35 per cent of emissions, mining for 2 per cent , and other economic processes for 9 per cent .

In terms of material, the highest emissions are from iron and steel at 32 per cent , cement, lime and plaster at 25 per cent , rubber and plastic at 13 per cent , and other non-metallic minerals at 13 per cent .

The material resources basket comprises four broad categories— biomass, fossil fuels, metals and nonmetallic minerals. These resources are critical for economic activity and development. India’s material use is expected to increase from 66 billion tonnes between 1990 and 2009 to 188 billion tonnes between 2010 and 2030.

Such ramp-up in material use would result in an increase in emissions as well. However, better use of resources through efficiency, recycling, reuse, and low wastage by ensuring that materials remain in the economic system for longer use would lead to a reduction in greenhouse gas emissions as well.

A new report from the International Resource Panel, titled ‘Resource Efficiency and Climate Change’, launched at the Madrid climate talks, makes the assessment for two segments — residential housing and passenger cars. Globally, the building is the biggest consumer of energy and natural resources and accounts for one-third of emissions.

The assessment shows that material efficiency strategies have the potential to reduce emissions in the residential building sector in India by 50-70 per cent , and 39-63 per cent in passenger cars. “When we think of the resource use and emissions figures of the building sector, we realise that it provides the most cost-effective ways of reducing greenhouse gas emissions,” said Finland’s minister of environment and climate change Krista Mikkonen.

Given India’s plan for rapid urbanisation and the large-scale construction of residential homes, adopting material efficiency strategies would appear to be the way forward. “Getting building right is the way forward, particularly when you look at the large demand for building and construction in the developing countries,” said Mark Radka of the UN Environment Programme.

The report finds that material efficiency strategies in production and use of residential buildings could lead to 270 million tonnes less of GHG emissions in India between 2016 and 2060. For passenger cars, material efficiency strategies could reduce emissions from operational energy use.

Material efficiency strategies could reduce total GHG emissions for the manufacturing, operations, and endof-life management of cars in India by 20-35 per cent . The largest reductions of life cycle emissions can be from reduction of the amount of material used and the energy required to operate the vehicles. This reduction can be achieved by changing the pattern of vehicle use, such as ride-sharing and car-sharing, and the use of smaller vehicles.

The Emission Gap Report, released ahead of the current round of climate talks, calls for deep, drastic and urgent cuts in carbon dioxide emissions. “The way we are looking at resources provides a critical path for emission reduction that is not just good for energy efficiency and decarbonisation but it is good for the pocket book, climate and biodiversity,” said Inger Andersen, executive director of UNEP.

The government has developed a resource efficiency policy—which is still a draft—that sets out resource efficiency measures for building and construction, and auto sector, as well steel and cement sectors.

Besides the benefits of greenhouse gas emissions, using materials more efficiently will improve industry’s competitiveness and will positively impact people’s quality of life.
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