The Organisation of Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) has published the interim findings of a policy scenario analysis on eliminating plastic pollution by 2040.

The report emphasizes that business-as-usual is unsustainable, as plastics use will continue to grow, leading to a 50% increase in their leakage into the environment by 2040.

The report titled, ‘Towards Eliminating Plastic Pollution by 2040: A Policy Scenario Analysis,’ notes that despite a growing urgency to mitigate and prevent the adverse impacts of plastic pollution, current policies failed to meet the challenge of significantly reducing plastic pollution. In 2022, an estimated 21 million tonnes of macroplastics leaked into the environment globally, almost one-third more than the previous decade. In addition, plastics contribute 3.8% of total global greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions.

The interim findings aim to support the ongoing negotiations towards a plastics treaty by providing an overview of the benefits and consequences of varying levels of international ambition and policy stringency across the plastics lifecycle.

Key messages from the report include, among others: disproportionately focusing policy action on waste management relative to upstream interventions will be insufficient; global ambition by 2040 would also reduce other environmental pressures; coordinated approaches can limit the costs of action; and lower global action could reduce costs, but at the expense of reduced environmental and climate benefits.

The analysis is based on four core policy scenarios, namely:

  • global ambition scenario, the most ambitious of the scenarios, which aims to identify policy interventions that could achieve a sustainable and circular plastics economy and move towards eliminating plastic pollution by 2040;
  • an uncoordinated action scenario, which could slow growth in plastics use but will not eliminate plastic leakage and where countries do not agree on international, legally binding targets, but rather ramp up efforts throughout the plastics lifecycle independently and voluntarily;
  • moderate alignment scenario, where countries agree on the need for coordinated urgent interventions but diverge on which policies are required, and which would further improve outcomes, with primary plastic use stabilizing at 2020 levels by 2040; and
  • delayed ambition scenario, which uses the same policy package as the global ambition scenario but over a longer timeframe, in alignment with a 2060 target for eliminating macroplastic leakage.

The report explains that ambitious policy action would cost 0.5% of global gross domestic product (GDP) in 2040, with the largest costs projected for countries with less advanced management systems, particularly in sub-Saharan Africa. In addition, according to the report, technical and economic barriers must be overcome, and recycling innovations and scaling up international markets for scrap and secondary plastics are needed.

Beyond the Intergovernmental Negotiating Committee on Plastic Pollution (INC), calls for ambition are coming from: the High Ambition Coalition to End Plastic Pollution, which has called for establishing an ambitious and effective international legally binding treaty; and the Group of 7 (G7) Ministers of Climate, Energy and the Environment, which committed to ending plastic pollution by 2040.

The full report containing a more in-depth analysis and more detailed policy guidance is expected to be published in the first half of 2024.

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