Overseas Development Institute warns fossil fuel emissions from plastic will rise three-fold by 2050 unless current trends are addressed
Phasing out the use of plastic in a number of industries could help the world curb demand for fossil fuels and more effectively confront the climate crisis, researchers have today advised.
According to the influential Overseas Development Institute (ODI) think tank, delivering on the world's climate goals would require plastic consumption to be halved by 2050, with 75 per cent of the remaining plastic being recycled.
There also needs to be a substantial increase in the use of plastic produced without fossil fuels to meet internationally agreed emissions targets, the report said, highlighting how the expansion in the use of alternative plastics could result in a drastic cut in global emissions from plastics from 1,984 million tonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent (Mt CO2e) in 2015 to 790 Mt CO2e in 2050.
Alternatively, if current trends continue, emissions from plastics are set to rise three-fold by 2050 "dashing hopes of achieving the Paris Agreement's aims of zero emissions", the think tank warns in its report, titled Phasing Out Plastics.
Areas where significant reductions in the use of plastics can be made include in construction, the packaging sector, electronics, and the automotive sector, the report said.
"Despite substantial attention being paid to plastic pollution and recycling, greenhouse gas emissions from the production of new plastics are set to increase dramatically," lead researcher Andrew Scott warned. "To confront the climate crisis, we must truly recognise plastics as a climate issue and raise our ambition beyond reducing 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."
Plastics are set to become a major battleground in global decarbonisation efforts, with a number of leading oil majors arguing that growing demand from the petrochemical industry justifies investment in new oil and gas capacity despite increasingly credible predictions that demand for oil from transport has peaked in part because of the rapid expansion of the electric vehicle sector.
However, some investors have warned that the plastics industry could be hit by the same stranded asset risks that have impacted the fossil fuel sector in recent years if new alternatives to conventional plastics and circular economy based business models enter the mainstream.
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