ISWA at COP28 : Strengthening the voice of the waste and resources sector

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In March 1995 the members of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) met for the first time in Berlin, Germany. The so-called Conference of the Parties - or COP for short - is the main decision-making body of the UNFCCC. It serves as the formal meeting place each year for the 198 parties to negotiate and agree on how to tackle climate change, reduce emissions and limit global warming. Milestones such as the Kyoto Protocol (the first legally binding agreement on emissions) and the Paris Agreement were negotiated as part of these meetings. The COPs are hosted annually in different countries and this year the UAE will host the COP28 which will take place from 30 November to 12 December at Expo City Dubai.

Putting waste on the agenda

This year's COP is special for the waste management sector will have its own dedicated representation at a pavilion. "Heading to COP28 with the first-ever Waste and Resources Pavilion is an honour and an excellent opportunity to showcase the great potential of the waste and resources management sector to tackle GHG emissions. It is a direct result of the efforts conveyed by ISWA as a global platform to catalyse and accelerate collaborative actions and joint initiatives towards a clean, circular, and low-carbon future,” says ISWA President Carlos Silva Filho.

Attentive readers will have noticed that this is the Waste and Resources Pavilion, with the emphasis on resources. Silva Filho explains: “As the leading network promoting professional and sustainable waste management worldwide and the transition to a circular economy, we understand that downstream solutions are no longer the way forward. The linear approach is exhausted, and a paradigm shift is required to reposition the sector as a central partner to enable a more circular system.”

“It is important to bring the 'resources management' approach on board because the waste sector is not the 'end-of-pipe provider' anymore. Our work goes way higher in the value chain and, in addition to managing discarded materials, waste management, nowadays, means managing and converting existing resources into secondary raw-materials, energy, fuel, and nutrients, for example. Thus, the importance to give a better notion about the sector's potential towards a cleaner, healthier and sustainable future.”

ISWA has teamed up with various prominent entities such as the Global Methane Hub, Tadweer and Roland Berger as strategic partners at COP28. According to the partners, the pavilion is more than “just a hub of information”. They see it as a call to action. Decision-makers worldwide should finally see recognise the crucial role the waste management sector can – and should – play and the importance of sound waste and resources management as a net GHG reducer. ISWA urges to incorporate consistent and appropriate measures into the Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs). An NDC is a set of measures, targets, and policies for the reduction of a country's GHG emissions and the mitigation of its climate change impacts. They are central to the Paris Agreement and almost every country has submitted an NDC in the run-up to the UN climate talks in Paris in 2015. NDCs are reported to the UNFCCC Secretariat every five years. Together, these climate actions will determine whether the world meets the long-term goals of the Paris Agreement.

Inclusion in the NDCs would of course also encourage investment in waste management.

In their declaration ISWA calls for the following:

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 the climate ROI of implementing proper waste and resource management worldwide. 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.

The Global South is severely lacking in waste management services. Around 2.7 billion people still have no access to waste collection, while around 40 per cent of collected MSW is open dumped or burned. In 2022 the UN General Assembly adopted a resolution stating that access to a clean and healthy environment is now a human right. The GA is calling on states, international organisations and businesses to step up their efforts to ensure a healthy environment for all.

In the Global South, those are some low hanging fruits that can be effectively improved in a relatively short period of time. Given sufficient investment. But very often the waste sector is fighting an uphill battle against insufficient or misinterpreted data.

We urgently call on global leaders to integrate sound waste and resource management into climate action plans, fostering progress across a broad spectrum of Sustainable Development Goals and addressing the Triple Planetary Crisis. The time for action is now.
ISWA president Carlos Silva Filho

Compelling research

In 2013, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) asserted that the waste sector contributes approximately 3 per cent to global greenhouse gas emissions. This declaration has led to a pervasive misconception that waste management's impact on climate mitigation is negligible.

However, more and more scientific evidence is supporting the arguments and claims of the waste management industry. The latest Intergovernmental Panel Climate Change Report published in March this year revealed that the waste management sector could avoid the equivalent of almost 1.8 tonnes of emitted CO2 per year.

And in his “opus magnum” as he affectionately calls it, David C. Wilson, has a detailed look at the impact of sound waste management. (“Learning from the past to plan for the future: An historical review of the evolution of waste and resource management 1970–2020 and reflections on priorities 2020–2030 – The perspective of an involved witness”).

“The main direct emissions from the narrow ‘end-of-pipe’ waste sector are methane emissions from landfill,” he explains. “Reductions due to collection and control of landfill gas, and diversion of organic wastes from landfill, contributed around 20 per cent of total reductions in national GHG emissions in some high-income countries over the period 1990-2020”, he says about his findings.

“A relatively small but locally important direct emission is black carbon (a much more powerful short-term climate forcer (SCLF) than methane) from open burning of waste. This can effectively be eliminated by phasing out such open burning, which is still commonplace in developing countries.”

Wilson: “The move from end-of-pipe waste management to waste and resource management and towards the circular economy also contributes significantly to GHG savings in other economic sectors; both through recycling and energy recovery; and through waste prevention.”

Which steps need to be taken depends on each country: “In many higher income countries, that is likely to move further towards waste prevention and the circular economy,” Wilson says. “In many developing countries, the priority is to extend municipal solid waste collection to all, while phasing out uncontrolled dumping and burning, thus achieving 95+ per cent compliance with SDG indicator 11.6.1."

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

A unified Call to Action

Tackling the world's waste crisis is not just a local imperative, it is a global responsibility. Sustainable waste management practices offer the potential for rapid and substantial reductions in direct greenhouse gas emissions, making it a comprehensive strategy for addressing the global waste crisis and transitioning to a sustainable future. As ISWA president Carlos Silva Filho says: “We urgently call on global leaders to integrate sound waste and resource management into climate action plans, fostering progress across a broad spectrum of Sustainable Development Goals and addressing the Triple Planetary Crisis. The time for action is now.”