The Circular Economy and the NDCs

Circular World™ Media
4 min readMar 28, 2024


To tackle climate change and its negative impacts, world leaders at the UN Climate Change Conference (COP21) in Paris reached a breakthrough on 12 December 2015: the historic Paris Agreement which is a legally binding international treaty. It entered into force on 4 November 2016. Today, 195 Parties (194 States plus the European Union) have joined the Paris Agreement.

A large part of the Paris Agreement is for countries to submit what are called NDCs or Nationally Determined Contributions, which are commitments that countries make to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions as part of climate change mitigation. Once states have set their initial NDCs, these are expected to be updated on a 5-year cycle.


There are two parts to climate change. The first part is GHG emission reductions which are reported via a country’s NDCs. The second part is climate change adaptation, and both are interconnected, as Singapore acknowledges in the Asia One video.

Singapore is vulnerable to climate change from almost every angle. A small island nation with no natural resources and highly dependent on international trade. According to IPCC calculations, Singapore’s domestic emissions contribute 0.11% of all emissions worldwide. Households account for 6% of Singapore’s emissions, compared to 60% from industry. However, these numbers do not account for many of Singapore’s international-facing activities, like shipping and trade, which transport goods across long distances and therefore burn fuel. Singapore imports 90% of its food and is the world’s second busiest port, supplying a quantity of aviation and marine fuel which generates almost three times as many GHGs as domestic emissions alone.

The Circular Economy and Climate Change

For the most part, climate activists, scientists, and professionals involved in emissions reductions have focused on the industries that emit the largest volume of GHGs. Yet these large volumes are made up of hundreds of small details, all requiring attention. For example, the UN states, “The buildings and construction sector is by far the largest emitter of greenhouse gases, accounting for a staggering 37% of global emissions.” Buildings are made up of hundreds of different materials, including cement, metals, plastics, timber, composite materials, plaster, marble, and granite, to name a few. Each one of these materials must be assessed for emission reductions, resource management, resource efficiency and circular systems. It is in these materials that the circular economy can play a much bigger role.

For the moment what is not in doubt and so far largely ignored in the NDCs is the inclusion of circular activities through circular systems as a major contributor to reducing emissions and improving resource management. Every activity in the circular economy must be considered within the context of a country’s NDCs, including climate adaptation.

According to Singapore’s updated NDC, dated 04 November 2022, under “Section 6: How the Party considers that its nationally determined contribution is fair and ambitious in the light of its national circumstances”, Singapore has responded in paragraph ‘J’ by writing

Singapore’s climate vulnerabilities will require comprehensive adaptation efforts. As a small, low-lying island state, Singapore needs to pursue a comprehensive adaptation programme to protect its coasts, low-lying areas and communities…These adaptation actions will impose significant costs for the Singapore Government and people.

What is Next for Singapore?

The aim of this article is not to criticise the Singapore government’s climate ambitions. In theory, Circular Economy Asia covers 24 countries across the Asian region, and I have read nearly all of the NDCs for each country and none are adequate. The Singapore Government conducted a survey in 2022, and the online consultation gathered 490 responses from members of the public and representatives of businesses and non-governmental organisations (NGOs). Most of the respondents, or 65%, were aged 20 to 39. Two-thirds of respondents said the Republic’s aim of reaching net zero by 2050 is “not sufficiently ambitious”.

Climate Action Tracker concurs with survey respondents.


Many people are confused by the circular economy and, by default, consider it a waste management tool to improve recycling. Only an extremely small number of forward-thinking people and companies link the circular economy with resource management, and historically the human race has never managed the primary raw materials that provide us with the products we use every day. So, it is a whole new world we are walking towards.

None of the 195 countries that signed up to the Paris Agreement will meet their stated climate targets without the circular economy. That is a circular economy whose primary objective is resource management and resource efficiency via the Circular Rs NOT primarily waste management.


Ms Adrienna Zsakay is the founder and CEO of Circular Economy Asia Inc. , and this article presents her opinions on the circular economy. Circular World ™ Video of the Week is brought to you by Circular World™ Media — a brand owned by Circular Economy Asia Inc.


‘All About NDCs’ published by the United Nations

‘Nationally Determined Contributions’ — Wikipedia

‘Explainer: The Climate Crisis and Singapore’ by Meerabelle Jesuthasan, published in New Natatif, 28 May 2020.

‘2 in 3 say Singapore’s 2050 net-zero goal ‘not sufficiently ambitious’: Survey’ by Gena Soh, published in The Straits Times, 28 October 2022.

Originally published at



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