Association Webinars: Circular Carbon Economy


Climate change mitigation efforts so far have focused mainly on faster deployment of renewables and replacement of hydrocarbons in the power and transportation sectors. Despite the progress being made, global emissions are still growing and GHG concentrations are at record levels. Clearly, the current approach is not working.

Mitigation strategies should consider practical and effective solutions that nurture a wholistic approach and make use of all the opportunities for solving the problem. This approach would accommodate a diverse energy mix of renewable and traditional fuel sources, would lessen atmospheric levels of GHGs, while also sustaining economic growth and prosperity.

This IAEE Webinar discussed the concept of a Circular Carbon Economy. CCE offers a new way of approaching climate goals that implicitly values all options and encourages all efforts to mitigate carbon accumulation in the atmosphere. The circular carbon economy extends the concept of a circular economy (reduce, reuse, recycle) by including remove and focusing exclusively on carbon and energy flows.

The four Rs (reduce, reuse, recycle, remove) of the circular carbon economy serve as categories of mitigation options, while the three Rs (minus ‘remove') of the circular economy are principles that govern the behavior of firms and households. The CCE framework advances the understanding of system dynamics and linkages between mitigation options. CCE can reveal possible choke points in reaching climate stabilization. Ensuring that technologies are available, mature, and cost-effective in each part of the circular carbon economy is critical to achieving climate goals at a reasonable cost.

The CCE concept adopts language developed by William McDonough, that signals positive intentions: do more good rather than simply do less bad. It identifies three categories of carbon:

Living carbon: organic, flowing in biological cycles, providing fresh food, healthy forests and fertile soil; something we want to cultivate and grow

Durable carbon: locked in stable solids or recyclable polymers that are used and reused; ranges from reusable fibers like paper and cloth, to building and infrastructure elements that can last for generations and then be reused

Fugitive carbon: emissions that have ended up somewhere unwanted; includes carbon dioxide released into the atmosphere by burning hydrocarbons, and also includes methane leaks, deforestation, much industrial agriculture and urban development

Three panelists presented and responded to audience questions.

William McDonough, recently named one of Fortune Magazine's World's 50 Greatest Leaders, counsels corporate and government leaders through McDonough Innovation, is an architect with William McDonough + Partners, and created the Cradle to Cradle CertifiedTM Products Program. He is on the faculty of Stanford University where he teaches Crade to Cradle and the Circular Economy.

Adam Sieminski is President of the King Abdullah Petroleum Studies and Research Center. KAPSARC is an independent, non-profit, research think tank located in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia. Its mission is to advance the understanding of energy, economics, and the environment, while acting as a catalyst for dialogue on issues of importance to policy makers and the public.

Khalid Abulief has over 30 years' experience on sustainability, climate change policy and carbon management. Currently, he is a senior advisor to HRH Minister of Energy on Sustainability and Climate Policy.


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