COP 25: Mitigating plastic-related greenhouse gas emissions should be top priority, systemic change is how it could be done

COP25 Madrid, 9 December 9 2019As part of the official programme of the annual UN Climate Change Conference, COP 25, in Madrid, Spain, EIT Climate-KIC convened leading stakeholders to discuss the mitigation of plastic-related greenhouse gas emissions. The focus was on turning global commitments into actions, through an approach based on systemic innovation.

The stated goal of the event was to bring leading policy experts and stakeholders together to draw attention to an overlooked driver of global carbon emissions: the plastics industry. Participants, which included government, civil society, and private sector representatives from Europe, Asia, and Latin America, discussed the urgency of overhauling of the whole plastics value chain.

The discussions were moderated by EIT Climate-KIC, Europe’s largest public-private partnership, with the purpose of tackling climate change through innovation. The event was co-organised by the Asia-Europe Foundation, a non-for-profit intergovernmental organisation that focuses on developing networks that help strengthen Asia-Europe relations by setting up platforms for shared learning experiences and the exchange of ideas.

The group agreed that radical collaboration is needed to quickly tackle the growing plastics crisis.

Patrick Bürgi, co-founder of South Pole highlighted that: “If we don’t take rapid action, the plastics value chain will consume 15 per cent of the global carbon budget by 2050. Compared to climate change, tackling the plastics challenge and its associated emissions is a lot easier. There is less money, less pollution, and less sectors involved – overall, less hassle to solve. Taking coordinated action today would be a win not only for the plastics crisis, but also the global climate crisis.”

Beyond collaboration, the group discussed the importance of addressing the problem through up-stream solutions. Veronica de la Cerda, CEO of Triciclos, commented that: “At Triciclos, we believe that waste and its impacts on the environment is a design error. Tackling plastic pollution requires changing the design process. Globally, we need to completely re-design product and service models to align to circular economy paradigms.”

Dr. Nguyen Trung Thang from the Ministry of Natural resources and Environment of Vietnam noted that: “Innovations and alternatives to fossil-based plastics already exist across the world. Currently, we are already commercializing Vietnamese made compostable plastics. But to compete with fossil-based plastics, we need to increase the market demand for alternatives”.

ASEF’s Grazyna Pulawska commented that grassroots-movements are driving change, not only in Europe but also in Asia.  Furthermore she stressed the importance of local mechanisms to deal with the plastics problem: “Developed countries need to keep their own rubbish. Exporting waste is not the solution to plastics circularity.”

EIT Climate-KIC’s CEO Kirsten Dunlop closed the panel, tying the panel and public interventions to showcase how we are beginning to see a shift towards concrete actions to tackling the plastics problem:“The point-based innovations have emerged, the challenge now is enabling systems transformation through integrated and coordinated interventions. First we need to keep reducing plastic as much as possible – reflect on what do we have and what is actually needed. Second, we need to take care of the inefficiencies in plastics recycling. Third, regulate and re-design – not simply business models, but also taking into considering territorial and trans-national material flows. Most of all, we need to reduce egos to encourage actors that want to be individual heroes to work together for a global solution”.

As the ongoing COP 25 negotiations aim to agree more ambitious plans to limit global warming in line with the Paris Agreement, the event highlighted the very real challenge that business-as-usual plastics production poses for meeting these global climate targets. If current plastics consumption trends continue, greenhouse gas emissions associated with plastics production could reach 15 per cent of the global carbon output by 2050, or around 2.8 gigatons of CO2 emissions. It is estimated that, in 2019 alone, the production and incineration of plastics will add more than 850 million tons of greenhouse gases to the atmosphere.

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What is EIT Climate-KIC

EIT Climate-KIC is Europe’s largest knowledge and innovation community focused on the rapid, broad-based systems transitions we now need to build prosperous, resilient, net zero-carbon societies in time. We run programmes in 28 countries from 13 European centres, including Brussels, London, Paris and Berlin. The diversity of our network is our strength. Our 370+ partners come from SMEs, corporations, start-ups, academia, science, cities, and other public authorities and NGOs.

Across most industries in Europe, the ‘easier stuff’ on the path to net-zero has already been done, mostly through cleaner energy supply and efficiency. What lies ahead is unprecedented and more difficult: structural change in social, economic and financial systems; fundamental transformations of city-systems, industry and land-use. New concepts of value and relationship. EIT Climate-KIC is building portfolios of co-ordinated innovations that work together to address these ‘systems level’ challenges. We invite new partners and funders to help shape and scale these portfolios for large-scale climate impacts.

What is ASEF

The Asia-Europe Foundation (ASEF) is an intergovernmental not-for-profit organisation based in Singapore. It focuses on developing networks that help strengthen Asia-Europe relations by setting up platforms for shared learning experiences and the exchange of ideas. In the last 18 years they have brought together more than 20,000 people from Asia and Europe and implemented over 700 projects covering the areas of culture, economy, education, governance, public health and sustainable development.

What is South Pole

South Pole’s team of over 300 social entrepreneurs globally are developing innovative solutions tailored to the needs of specific organisations and entire sectors. They are always on the pulse of the rapidly changing climate policy and regulatory environment. Understanding the big picture is important to them and their clients. So is identifying and implementing actions on the ground with lasting positive impacts on the environment, communities and businesses.

What is Triciclos

Guided by the intention to work in the environmental and social spheres with the same relevance as the economic one, Triciclos designs and implements solutions to eliminate the concept of waste. They do this by engineering for a circular economy in order to reduce the waste problem before it is generated or by ensuring that it has the most circular destination possible, through reuse, return and recycling.

Related Goal
Goal 7: Build circular material flows
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