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LETTER TO THE EDITOR | Real climate leadership, stop support for thermal waste-to-energy facilities



THE GLOBAL Alliance for Incinerator Alternatives (GAIA) expresses solidarity with civil society organizations across the region demanding real climate action from the Asian Development Bank (ADB) and other international financial institutions.

The Bank plays a major role in shaping economic, governance, and social agenda affecting its developing member-countries (DMCs) as a financier, policy advisor, and convenor of leaders in the region. Yet, during the three days of the Bank’s annual meeting, we have only seen political statements of “alignment” with Paris goals and achieving green, resilient, recovery, but without any clear commitments to climate reform.

As countries struggle in stemming the impacts of COVID-19, the ADB has kept climate reforms at bay, where changes in its policies, strategies, and programs are most critical.

While ADB President Masatsugu Asakawa acknowledged concerns over greenhouse gas emissions and hazardous waste that are produced from waste incineration, he made no clear commitments to drop WtE from the Bank’s portfolio. The ADB, likewise, has maintained its categorization of WtE as a climate-mitigating measure. Moreover, it has justified the use of scarce public resources for WtE, describing it as an “option for supporting a circular economy.”

On the contrary, more governments, especially in the EU, are moving away from WtE. In the latest EU Taxonomy Regulation, WtE has been excluded from the list of sustainable economic activities, due to its harm to the circular economy and climate objectives. WtE is also not part of other EU funds such as the Regional Development and Cohesion Fund and the Just Transition Fund. The European Investment Bank Circular Economy Guide, meanwhile, classified thermal WtE as an ineligible technology supporting the transition to a circular economy.

Denmark, for example, has announced plans to decommission 30% of its incinerator capacity to meet its mid-term climate targets. Slovenia has dropped plans to build an incinerator in its capital Ljubljana to avoid being locked in a long-term put-or-pay contract, as well as to realize its circular economy potential.

Scientists and practitioners are speaking with communities on the impact of thermal WtE operations on circular economy and climate goals. For a thermal WtE to operate in its full efficiency, it has to jeopardize the recycling of recyclable plastic waste because of its high heating values greatly desired by thermal WtE operators.

This creates a lock-in effect that will eventually undermine waste prevention, reuse, and recycling policies and programs, as local governments are forced to send a fixed amount of waste to the thermal WtE operator or pay a fine.

DMCs should not welcome strategies that consider thermal WtE as an option of “last resort” from open landfills. Both open landfills and WtEs release a significant amount of GHG emissions that harm the environment and jeopardize the 1.5°C climate target.

Thermal Waste-to-Energy is a Waste-of-Energy—it burns public funds for 20-25 years that are better invested in waste reduction, recycling, and composting programs. These programs deliver higher climate mitigation benefits, thus positioned – high in the hierarchy of options for managing waste that protects the environment by preventing waste and preserving resources in the first place.

Moreover, including thermal WtE as an option of “last resort” runs against national climate, recycling, and environmental goals and policies. Loan packages can conveniently include thermal WtE as part of its waste management programs even when there are other low-carbon and cheaper options available to manage waste.

Therefore, we recommend that the ADB refrain from advising countries to opt for thermal WtE, as it is doing now in the Philippines and other parts of Southeast Asia.

We dispute the Bank’s statement that WtE enhances the livability and health of local communities. Thermal WtE are known to generate hazardous and toxic substances and are being approved by the Bank without communities’ consent.

In Thailand, Maldives, and the Philippines, WtE is being resisted at various levels because of its potential environmental and social risks. ADB’s technical assistance in the Philippines, for instance, has led to public-private partnership agreements amid a national ban on incinerators.

These proposals presently face disputes on land claims, community health and safety, lack of meaningful consultation, and information disclosure. In Thailand, an indigenous community is resisting a thermal WtE facility to be established in ancestral land devoted for agriculture and near a school.

In Maldives, a WtE incinerator project seen to endanger communities from the lack of environmental regulations to manage air, water, and land pollution has been approved without information disclosure and meaningful consultation.

There is no air pollution control equipment that can remove toxic content of thermal WtE emissions. It only transfers the toxic emission from stack to toxic ashes and water effluents. Communities resist because of the known lasting adverse impacts of these facilities on its long-term and irreversible consequences on health, pollution, climate, and environmental sustainability,

The aforementioned countries are facing severe climate risks and ADB’s support of carbon-intensive projects such as thermal WtE is unacceptable. In its efforts to align with the Paris Agreement, we urge ADB to withdraw thermal WtE from its Energy Policy and other financial instruments. Further, we demand ADB to stop all thermal WtE technical assistance, projects, and investments including those under climate and green finance. Instead of empowering polluters, we demand a rights-respecting Safeguards Policy Statement to enable communities to determine the best options for green, inclusive and resilient future. Time is running out.

Geri Matthew Carretero
Communications Officer
Break Free From Plastic (BFFP)
Unit 336, Eagle Court Condominium, Matalino Street,
Barangay Central, Quezon City, 1100

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