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A constructive Climate Week – but let’s dial up the dialogue on materials

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Coming out of Climate Week, a companion event with the United Nations General Assembly in New York City, I was impressed by how much the discussions were focused on action. The engagement across different stakeholders was tremendous with hundreds of events bringing together sustainability changemakers in government, business, academia and the public sector for discussion and debate.

Climate and nature clearly on the table together

Among my first reflections, it was encouraging to see the nature agenda woven heavily all the way through discussions – it would have been reasonable to call it Climate and Nature Week. There was a hugely popular nature hub and a strong focus on nature-based solutions. At the New York Stock Exchange, the Taskforce on Nature-related Financial Disclosures was launched, a new framework for business to disclose impacts and dependencies on nature. This is an indicator that nature is getting parity with climate action. But it’s also very clear there is much more to be done for nature action to be as widely understood as climate action.

A wider view on the role of circularity

There is also a rapidly growing appreciation that circularity needs to be elevated in visibility more as the central system shift to support climate and nature outcomes. Following the Stockholm +50 event in 2022, efforts to design a global protocol encompassing circularity metrics and governance is really starting to take shape, enabled by WBCSD and UNEP One Planet Network. This could conceivably give us the same type of framework that we've got for GHG reporting and Scope 1, 2 and 3. The idea of circularity being embraced more consistently across countries, industries and other stakeholders will be a critical step up to inform change to support the two central imperatives of climate and nature.

Beyond the decarbonization discussion

The decarbonization pathway was of course a common thread to address climate change. This is a topic that is well understood in terms of what to do (max renewables, max electrification, decarbonize fuels, fix methane). The primary challenge consistently seems to be pace. The exit plan for fossil fuels is easy to define but remains excruciatingly difficult to execute at a sufficient speed.

What I missed in New York – and coming to my most pointed reflection – is a similar pathway logic for materials system transition that we have for global decarbonization. The to-do list isn't visible enough for material systems and the dialogue is siloed and focused independently on the material and the product itself and not on how the system overall could be reconfigured for a more sustainable system of material provision and consumption.

Zooming in on the materials system

Every industry is naturally looking at how to make itself continually better, in the context of its material, processes and products. But the missing piece is how can we look across industries. We need to be talking about the configuration and balance of materials, the right ones for the right things. If we change our perspective and look at the whole system, solutions will appear that don’t currently exist. We’ll start to see ways of doing things that lead to new, innovative solutions.

Global industries extract 100s of billions of tons out of the world – minerals, ores, fossil fuels and biomass – to provide solutions in housing, nutrition, consumables, mobility, healthcare, communication and services. The materials system transition is about reshaping the flows so they’re more circular, lower carbon, nature positive, and the solutions provided at the end are more based around the bioeconomy and renewable. Accelerating this shift will have deep and profound impacts on our global climate ambition.

A transition based on the bioeconomy

For future Climate Weeks, I anticipate we will see material and the bioeconomy have the same visibility that nature secured this year, delving into the system needs and how we can build a society where circularity is biased towards sustainable materials – and based on a growing bioeconomy. You’ll certainly be hearing more on this from Stora Enso.


Toby Croucher

Toby Croucher is the Senior Vice President of Sustainability in the Forest Division at Stora Enso
Sustainability at Stora Enso