Pressure mounts on UN body to withdraw support to 'dirty' CDM projects

Study criticises EU for using carbon credits from polluting waste incineration plants in developing countries offset emissions

The CDM Executive Board that works under the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change is under great pressure to deliver on its promise to review support to waste incineration technologies. The international environmentalists' community is demanding that the board withdraw “dirty technologies” from the list of enterprises certified to receive carbon credits. The UN board supervises Kyoto Protocol's clean development mechanism (CDM) and issues carbon credits to certified projects.
A worldwide alliance of over 600 grassroots groups and NGOs, the Global Alliance on Incineration Alternatives (GAIA), meanwhile, has published a study on May 15—The European Union's double standards on waste management and climate policy. The study criticises the EU countries for offsetting their emissions with carbon credits from incinerators.

As per the CDM scheme, waste incineration to generate power comes under AM0025 category—avoided emissions from organic waste through alternative waste treatment processes. This category is under revision, and the CDM executive board had invited public comments on the technology. The date for receiving comments was April 30, 2012. Following this the CDM executive board is required to review other technologies, improve the existing technology and put into place mechanisms that will reduce the dangers of waste incineration technology. The board has stated that submissions made by the public will be debated at the UN's methodology panel meeting scheduled between June 21 and 25 this year. 

Highly polluting and very costly

Mariel Vilella, climate policy campaigner of GAIA, says, “Though initiated in 2011, talk of revising incineration technologies approved for carbon credits, the subject seems to have fallen into a black hole. No concrete action has been taken so far.” She adds that CDM was established not only to reduce emissions as cost-effectively as possible, but also to promote sustainable development and technology transfer to developing countries. Citing a report submitted to the board in 2011, Vilella says AM0025 has structural errors and is not the most cost-effective means to deal with greenhouse gases.

The GAIA study states, “While incinerators have aroused concerns worldwide and their impacts on human health have been extensively documented, the CDM continues to support their expansion, with little regard for their impact on recycling rates and without requiring any pollution control. In this way, the EU (member countries) continue to offset their own carbon emissions with carbon credits from incinerators that would never be allowed under the European Union law.” It emphasises the role of waste-pickers in recycling and reducing toxic emissions stating, “Incinerators and RDF (refuse derived fuel) plants actively compete with recycling,which offers much greater total greenhouse gas emissions reductions.”

It adds that the Waste Incineration Directive of the Conference of Parties to UNFCCC recognises that chimney stacks of municipal solid waste incinerators discharge harmful substances, including arsenic, cadmium, mercury, hydrogen chloride, volatile organic compounds, dioxins, furans, and fine dust particles. Studies show that a quarter of burnt waste remains as ash, including a proportion of highly toxic fly ash. There is considerable evidence that emissions from burning waste affect human health. Several studies have pointed to the link between cancer and the emission of dioxins from incinerators and other industrial sources. Even modern incinerators and gasifiers can emit large quantities of ultra fine particulates of less than 2.5 microns, known as nanoparticles, which are small enough to pass through the lung membranes, carrying harmful substances such as dioxins and metals into all parts of the body.

In 2011, GAIA along with Payal Parekh, climate and energy expert, submitted a detailed proposal with incineration alternatives. The report brings to light problems with the methodologies and recommends changes. It shows that along with being environmentally unfriendly, waste to energy plants are also not economical. “One estimate suggests that incineration typically costs 25 times as much per tonne of waste processed a day when compared to composting,” states the report.
The GAIA study accuses the EU of adopting double standards, stating that the incinerators that the EU is supporting in developing countries through buying their carbon credits are spewing toxic emissions that are not only unacceptable, but also illegal on European soil.

Referring to projects approved in countries like India, the report states, “A recently-approved project in New Delhi will receive carbon credits for supposedly reducing emissions while it produces six times more CO2 than it reports.”

UNFCCC recognition of waste incineration to generate power is a double standard, says Dharmesh Shah from the Indian chapter of GAIA. In the garb of renewable energy, UNFCCC has given the dirty technology legitimacy. GAIA has support in over 82 countries and works with ragpickers. Its ultimate vision is a just, toxic-free world without incineration.

India pursues waste-to-energy policy

Despite the evidence, Indian authorities are granting subsidies and encouraging waste to energy plants across the country. On March 22 this year, an expert committee of the Central Pollution Control Board, set up to look into the issues pertaining to the technical aspects of waste-to-energy plants, cleared a controversial waste incineration plant in south Delhi. The committee was set up following strong protests by residents of  the neighbourhood of Sukhdev Vihar, who are opposing the Jindal group-owned waste incineration plant in their locality. The committee report suggests that there are grave concerns and precautions to be taken at the plant but at the same time says all is well and that clarifications regarding the technology have been submitted.

Delhi has sanctioned three waste-to-energy projects while other cities like Bengaluru, Bhagalpur in Bihar and Jalandhar in Punjab are in the process of reviewing and approving similar projects. In cities like Surat, Pune and Coimbatore, sanctioned projects are not fully functional because of bureaucratic delays and public opposition. Other projects like the Selco plant in Andhra Pradesh and plant in north Delhi's Timarpur area (built in 1984) are lying defunct.
Gopal Krishna of non-profit Toxics Watch Alliance says the harmful technology is being promoted in India because of government subsidies. “It is mostly fuelled by the incentives offered by the Ministry of New and Renewable Energy, municipal corporations and the prospects of getting international funds through CDM of the UNFCCC,” he adds.


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