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What’s next for the resources sector and the climate change agenda?

15th November 2021 Posted by

Blog written by Sarah Ottaway, Sustainability and Social Value Lead at SUEZ recycling and recovery UK.

As you read this, the dust will be settling on the final commitments and agreements made from the COP26 negotiations. Even though I’m writing this before the negotiations have concluded, I’m confident that tackling consumption, food waste or any major commitments related to reducing our resource use won’t make it into the headlines or those final all-important documents.

With 90% of biodiversity loss and half of the world’s consumption-based emissions related to resource extraction and processing, it’s baffling why consumption is not playing a larger role in either the UK’s or the global climate change agenda. It’s for this reason SUEZ decided to run a series of fringe events in Glasgow along with the Aldersgate Group, Green Alliance, ReLondon and CIWM. The sessions and the discussions that surrounded them were full of passion, great ideas and a common sense of purpose that resources are a clear missing piece of the climate change puzzle, which needs greater recognition and quickly. I’ve come away with an overwhelming volume of notes, ideas and actions, here are the key underpinning takeaways for me.

Education is not the answer.

I seem to be hearing increasingly how education is going to get us out of the climate crisis by teaching the next generation of decision makers and the leaders of tomorrow. However, we are already up against the clock to tackle climate change before temperatures range to cataclysmic levels, so hoping we empower the next generation to solve the problem is simply kicking the can down the road. Education does have an important role to play, but more importantly is the need to adapt and evolve our systems to make the sustainable choice the easier choice, so our educational efforts can be more effective at nudging the right behaviours. Currently it’s too easy to throw things in the bin rather than recycling them. Reused, refurbished and upcycled products are still the exception rather than the norm and it’s too convenient to buy almost anything online at the touch of button and have it delivered within 24 hours.

With the Environment Bill finally becoming the Environment Act, important policy measures from consistent collections to extended producer responsibility are now on the statute books. However, there is little mention of consumption and genuine system change at scale. In the absence of government policy, we need to look at how we can accelerate, scale up and drive this change forward, and quickly.

This is about more than numbers

One of the things that we have learnt through our social value journey, is that peeling back the layers of the social, economic and environmental benefits associated with an activity, project, or even an entire organisation, enables you to understand the bigger picture of the impact you are having. While there has been a great deal of discussion around the impacts of climate change on communities and people across the world, there has been little about the benefits that responding to this challenge and changing the way we use our natural resources. From the skilled jobs that will be created, to the local networks for services such as reuse and repair. These will support and enable local economies to flourish, as well as the savings people will make from reducing the amount of food they buy and simply discard. We need to understand and use these powerful messages as a sector to amplify the opportunities and successes that come with bringing the resources sector into policy, strategy and approach to climate change.

From whichever lens we look at consumption and resources, there is little reason for it to be so notably absent from the governmental and business climate agenda. We have already seen a fantastic response from those involved or who tuned in to the sessions we ran in Glasgow, but we must keep pushing this agenda to raise the profile of the vital role the resources sector has to play in tackling this global threat to our very survival.

We will be reflecting back on COP26 along with others who made it to Glasgow in our webinar on the 23 November – sign up here to join us to consider where the resources and waste sector fits within the context of key topics raised during COP26, what are the key messages we must take forward, and the actions required to progress on our decarbonisation journey in the coming years.

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