A race against time and against ourselves. Against the dangerous idea that we can’t do this, that there is no way.
Unlike most races, it won’t have one winner. In this race we all win, or we all lose. Winning it requires a radical, unprecedented level of collaboration, from all corners of our world. From our cities, businesses, regions and investors. From people everywhere.
Together we’re racing for a better world. A zero carbon and resilient world. A healthier, safer, fairer world. A world of wellbeing, abundance and joy, where the air is fresher, our jobs are well-paid and dignified, and our future is clear.
To get there we need to run fast, and get faster. We need more and more people to join the race, and right now. This is not about 2050, it’s about today.
Together, we can do this. And we’re already on our way.
A clarion call to reduce and phase out open waste burning
By Climate Champions & Engineering X | May 19, 2022
Open waste burning is one of the major contributors of greenhouse gases (GHGs) and poses major health hazards owing to the cocktail of air pollutants it discharges, according to a report published this week.
Open burning of waste produces 11% of global black carbon emissions, with 26% of global waste burned at a residential level and 15% spontaneously burned at dump sites.
Emissions from solid waste driven by open dumps and landfills account for about 5-12% of total global GHG emissions while methane generated from decomposing organic waste accounts for around 20% of global methane.
Open burning of waste accounts for 29% of fine particulate matter (PM2.5) pollution in the air and this together with other air pollutants cause nearly 1.2 million premature deaths per year in Africa.
According to the report, authored by UN High-Level Champions Waste Leads Professor Desta Mebratu and Dr Andriannah Mbandi, Sub-Saharan Africa generated around 9% of global waste as of 2016, or 180 million tonnes. About two-thirds of that is dropped in landfills and open dump sites, where it risks polluting both the local environment and global climate.
The report notes that children living near these dump sites are ingesting and inhaling toxic substances. The particulate matter emitted in the air causes lung and heart disease, cancer, infertility, low birthweight, premature birth, cognitive development problems, and premature death. Dump sites emit around 20% of the world’s methane and 11% of black carbon – two potent short-lived greenhouse gases that must be slashed in order to limit the impacts of climate change.
The study also highlights that around 70-80% of the municipal solid waste generated in African cities is recyclable – such as biodegradable waste, plastics and paper – and could be worth US$8 billion per year if kept in a circular economy. It recommends taking an engineering approach to addressing the structural deficiencies in waste management and promoting a circular economy that prioritises reuse, recycling and recovery will strengthen local manufacturing, create jobs, reduce unemployment, support inclusive and sustainable local and regional economies, and reduce air pollution and greenhouse gas emissions.
The report makes it clear that there are major challenges, but also opportunities for the region, including:
Reducing and phasing out open waste burning in African urban centres would have significant health and environmental benefits besides reducing emission of GHGs.
African countries have unique opportunities to secure multiple economic, social and environmental benefits through local separation and recycling of waste as secondary resources.
This would require moving away from piecemeal interventions to systemic transformation with a focus on addressing the systemic deficiencies of waste management systems in African urban centres.
The report also calls for an expansion of the UN High-Level Climate Champions’ partnership with Engineering X, an international collaboration founded by the Royal Academy of Engineering and Lloyd’s Register Foundation, by welcoming other international and regional partners into the work – particularly in the run-up to November’s COP27 summit in Sharm El-Sheikh. The Engineering X Safer End of Engineered Life mission aims to apply engineering expertise to improving existing waste management practices and supporting design-for-waste principles and safer, more sustainable waste policies in the longer term.
In a joint foreword to the report, the UN Climate Change High-Level Champions for COP26 and COP27, Nigel Topping and Dr Mahmoud Mohieldin, say:
“The African Union has set an ambitious target for African cities to recycle at least half of their waste by 2023. Many are still far from achieving this, but according to the UN Environment Programme the goal can be met and even surpassed with a shift of organic waste to composting and bioenergy recovery, along with the refurbishment, repair, reuse and recycling of plastics, paper, metal, glass, tyres and electronic waste.
“To do this, the transformation needs to be systemic. It needs to include the informal waste recyclers who are already getting waste back into the African economy, as well as national governments, cities and development partners.”
“We recognize the irreplaceable value of forests for nature, for people, for the economy, for common humanity, but also as a prime solution to address climate change,” Razan Al Mubarak, President of IUCN and UN Climate Change High-Level Champion for COP28 told Heads of State at this week’s One Forest Summit.
A nature-positive future holds unlimited opportunities for businesses to both mitigate risk and explore new products, markets or business models, argue Sharon Thorne Global Chair, Deloitte & Elizabeth Mrema, Executive Secretary, United Nations Convention on Biological Diversity.