COP28 : Showcasing the link between waste and resource management to tackle climate change

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The UN Climate Change Conference COP 28 in Dubai, United Arab Emirates, was the largest of its kind. The conference, held from 30 November to 13 December, brought together some 85,000 participants, including more than 150 heads of state and government, as well as representatives of national delegations, civil society, business, indigenous peoples, youth, philanthropy and international organisations.

But it's not only its sheer size that makes this conference so significant. COP28 marked the conclusion of the first global stocktake, which is like an inventory for countries to see where they are making progress towards meeting the goals of the Paris Agreement. But also where not. It's a stark reminder for each and every country of the seriousness of the situation we all are in and a call to action. It's supposed to take place every five years.

COP28 was also especially meaningful for the waste management industry. For the first time, the sector was at the conference with a special pavilion. ISWA President Carlos Silva Filho talks about the significance of this fact, the importance of COP28 and the waste and resources sector as well as the outcomes for the industry.

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For the first time the waste and resources industry was hosting a special pavilion at COP. How did that come about and why is it so important?

After attending COP26 and 27 we realized that many sectors were present in the Blue Zone with sectoral Pavilions, to present, discuss and advocate for their positions, ideas, and contributions to mitigate climate change.

ISWA was present as an Observer to the UNFCCC, as a participant in some events and discussions, but the waste sector was not represented at this main event and it was a pity, considering the relevant potential offered by this sector to reduce GHG emissions.

So, after COP27 in Egypt, we got internal approval to go for a Waste and Resources Management Pavilion at COP28 in Dubai, and I'm really proud of what we did during this first opportunity.

What specific goals or outcomes were you aiming for at COP28?

The main goal was to amplify the voice of the waste sector showcasing the significant link between waste and resource management to tackle climate change, presenting the great potential of this sector to tackle GHG emissions, especially methane.

Related article: The significant potential of better waste and resource management for climate mitigation

Carlos Silva headshot
ISWA President Carlos Silva Filho - © zVg

We went to Dubai with a Declaration supported by several National Members, advocating for 3 key messages:

  • Acknowledge the climate return on investment (ROI) of the waste and resource management sector: Recognise the climate mitigation potential of the waste and resource management sector and consider the benefits generated by carbon mitigation projects, as crucial for the needed investment streams towards the eradication of open dumps, integrated waste and resource management, including upstream measures and innovative circular solutions to decarbonise our economies.
  • Accelerate the achievement of the SDGs: sound waste and resource management is instrumental to accelerate the achievement of several targets of the 2030 Agenda, being a necessary ally to ensure a just and equitable transition towards the full implementation of the SDGs.
  • Address the Triple Planetary Crisis: adequate waste and resource management is instrumental to beat climate change, pollution, and biodiversity loss, bringing consistent and integrated responses to these threats and thus contributing to a cleaner, healthier, and sustainable planet.

How do you think COP28 differs from previous climate conferences in terms of priorities or approaches?

This COP was the halfway point between the Paris Agreement and the 2030 Agenda, it was also the occasion where the first global stocktake would take place and the topic of fossil fuels was very high on the news, considering the most recent reports concluding that 2023 would be the hottest year ever registered (what was confirmed at the end).

Due to that conjunction of issues, COP28 was the largest-ever Climate Conference, registering record numbers of delegates - more than 97,000 participants – and gathering the attention of many others online.

It was a challenge and an opportunity at the same time. A challenge because expectations were very high (as well as the pressure from many major groups). An opportunity because it was the first time that many players, authorities and organisations were all together to discuss concrete actions to tackle climate change.

Related article: Strengthening the voice of the waste and resources sector

Were there any innovative or promising initiatives being discussed or proposed at COP28 that stand out to you?

Yes, there were many ideas, initiatives and commitments developed and announced during COP28, from several different sectors, some of them, reaching a kind of engagement and consensus for the first time.

For the waste sector, for example, there were quite important initiatives announced during COP28, such as:

  • the LOW-Methane initiative aiming to reduce methane emissions focusing on lowering organic waste;
  • the Waste-to-Zero initiative, announced by UAE, to develop initiatives leading to reducing the wastage of resources and maximising circular waste management;
  • the launch of the VRC Platform, a blockchain solution aiming to establish a global marketplace for recycling credits;

ISWA itself announced the establishment of the Triple-M initiative, which will be further developed to leverage methane mitigation opportunities, through the improvement of waste management systems, mostly in developing countries.

How does the waste management industry plan to contribute to the global climate action discussed at COP28?

ISWA, as the leading network promoting professional and sustainable waste management worldwide and the transition to a circular economy, understands that downstream solutions are no longer the way forward.

The linear approach is exhausted, and the waste sector is not the 'end-of-pipe provider' anymore. Our work goes way higher in the value chain as materials and resources managers, but to make it happen, a paradigm shift is required, repositioning this sector as a central partner to enable a more circular system.

With the initiatives emerging from COP28, we aim to be more than "just a hub of information". We are sharing a call to action to tackle GHG and SLCPs and deliver change on the ground, by supporting decision-makers worldwide to recognise the relevant role the waste management sector can – and should – play and the importance of sound waste and resources management as a net reducer towards a clean, circular, and low-carbon future.

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ISWA, as the leading network promoting professional and sustainable waste management worldwide and the transition to a circular economy, understands that downstream solutions are no longer the way forward. The linear approach is exhausted, and the waste sector is not the 'end-of-pipe provider' anymore.

Are there any key topics or issues that might not have received enough attention at COP28 but are crucial for addressing the climate crisis?

Unfortunately, the final declaration didn't include the topics mentioned above, showing that the issue is still overlooked by the member states and by the delegates who are responsible for the negotiations during the Conference.

Also, the practicalities of what has been announced at COP are still missing but hopefully will be developed and structured soon enough to enable concrete results before the next COP in Baku, when we'll be able to upgrade the level of the discussions, considering real action is already in place.

Are there any specific partnerships or collaborations being formed or strengthened at COP28 that could make a significant impact?

The initiatives mentioned above (LOW-Methane, Waste-to-Zero, VRC Platform, Triple-M initiative) are all examples of partnerships between relevant stakeholders who are committing themselves, with time, money and knowledge to make things happen and provide significant impact with concrete reduction of GHG emissions, towards a low carbon future.

What lessons or insights do you bring back from COP28 that can inspire action or change in the industry?

The most important lesson I'd mention it's mobilization for a relevant cause: we've been able to mobilize very important actors – persons and organisations – for the Waste and Resources Pavilion on a very short term because we just got the confirmation the Pavilion was approved by the organisers at the end of July.

Another very important point is: that when the sector raises its voice, presents its projects and initiatives and makes itself present, we can attract new supporters and influence the change. So the lesson is that we need to amplify even more our voice, need to be present in as many events as possible, from local to global levels. We must present our profile and our solutions because sound waste and resources management is a basic human right and crucial to beat the triple planetary crisis.

An insight to be shared with the industry is that the world is facing this multicrisis and countries – national member states – are discussing and signing agreements, endorsing commitments, to find a way out of these threats, and trying to ensure a sustainable future. Therefore, we must follow, contribute and influence, because in the end, any decision emerging from those meetings will be implemented at the local level, and the waste and resources management industry is a local provider of global solutions.

How important is international collaboration in addressing waste management issues, and what mechanisms or agreements were discussed at COP28 to facilitate this collaboration?

Collaboration is key to the success of any initiative. When we discuss the improvement of waste management, we must consider the cross-cutting impact of any measure to be taken and the necessity for the engagement of a diverse group of stakeholders.

There is a common sense that more collaboration is vital, but the mechanisms to facilitate it are still very sparse and a collaborative model to accelerate the required transformation is still missing.

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