Huge plastic reduction needed to deliver Paris Agreement

21st September 2020


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The world will fail to deliver the goals of the Paris Agreement without a massive reduction in plastic consumption, analysis by the Overseas Development Institute (ODI) suggests.

In a report published today, the ODI warned that, on current trends, emissions from plastics are due to increase threefold by 2050, dashing any hopes of limiting global warming to 1.5 above pre-industrial levels.

However, the analysis suggests that halving plastic consumption within three decades, recycling 75% of remaining plastic, and increasing the amount produced without fossil fuels, could cut emissions from plastic from 1,984 million tonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent (Mt CO2e) in 2015 to 790 Mt CO2e in 2050.

It highlights how plastic consumption could be reduced by more than 95% in the construction sector, 78% in the packaging sector, 57% in the electronics sector and 17% in the automotive sector. These industries collectively account for around 60% of total plastics consumption.

The findings come as business and government leaders meet for the start of Climate Week 2020 in New York, which is expected to be the biggest climate summit taking place this year.

“Despite substantial attention being paid to plastic pollution and recycling, greenhouse gas emissions from the production of new plastics are set to increase dramatically,“ said report author Andrew Scott.

“To confront the climate crisis, we must truly recognise plastics as a climate issue and raise our ambition beyond reusing and recycling to significantly phasing out plastics all together. Our research shows that this is technically possible – but it will require public and political will, as well as leadership from industry.“

Improved product designs and changes to consumption patterns could reduce the quantity of materials used, extend the lifetimes of products and enhance their reuse, according to the report, while other materials such as natural fibres and ceramics could also substitute plastic in some cases.

The ODI called on:

  • Governments to introduce regulations to rapidly phase out single-use plastics, incentivise the use of alternative materials (for example, through carbon taxes) and to invest in recycling capacity
  • Businesses to adopt principles of sustainability and circular economy in product design
  • Consumers to reuse and recycle plastics, but to also be aware of the climate effects of the plastics that they use.

“Given their devastating impact on our planet, it can be hard to comprehend that plastics only entered the mainstream in the second half of the 20th century,“ Scott continued.

“With concerted action from business, government and consumers, we could make the first half of the 21st century the time to phase them out.“

Image credit: iStock

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