Resource Use

Defra's GHG emissions indicator for waste industry ‘inadequate for purpose’

Defra’s method of reporting greenhouse gas emissions directly attributable to the waste industry has significant omissions, according to a new report released today (10 February).

The report, authored by Dr. Dominic Hogg of Equanimator, highlights problems with the way UK greenhouse gas (GHG) inventories are reported to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC). Currently, emissions associated with waste treated through incineration are reported under the ‘energy’ inventory instead of ‘waste’.

Any emissions reductions delivered by waste recycling are also omitted, listed under the ‘industrial production and product use’ section. Defra’s reporting, Hogg asserts, only reflects what is reported to the UN under the ‘waste’ section – currently limited to emissions associated with landfilling and composting, with the former accounting for the majority of emissions.

Defra tracks the performance of its Resources and Waste Strategy through a set of indicators, with ‘GG1’ measuring GHG emissions from waste management. According to the report, this indicator is ‘inadequate for purpose’, omitting any emissions associated with English energy from waste (EfW) facilities and GHG from the incineration of exported waste. GG1 further fails to record any reductions in GHG emissions associated with the recycling of waste, as well as not counting ‘the benefits that may be attributable to sequestration of carbon in soils’.

The report links these shortcomings to the way countries currently report their GHG emissions to the UNFCCC. Developed by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), reporting guidelines require that emissions be recorded under ‘section’ headings, one of which is ‘waste’. Under these guidelines, if a waste management facility generates energy, its emissions are reported under the ‘energy’ section.

Hogg proposes that the indicator, GG1, needs to be reformulated. The report also notes the UK, as President of the Conference of Parties (COP), is ‘uniquely well-placed’ to commence an overhaul of the existing approach that countries are asked to use to report their GHG emissions to the UNFCCC.

Dr. Dominic Hogg, co-founder of Equanimator, commented: “The Defra indicator is a poor indicator. It doesn’t reflect the impact of waste management on climate change. It only reflects the change in greenhouse gas emissions coming from what is included in the ‘waste’ section of the UK’s inventory. The two things are completely different.

“This is reflective of a far bigger problem at the global level related to the way in which ‘waste’ emissions are reported under the UN Framework Convention. Taking such a partial view of waste management will lead policy-makers to the wrong decisions. Our indicators and inventories make policymakers indifferent to recycling plastic waste instead of incinerating it, even though the switch can reduce emissions by four tonnes of CO2 equivalent per tonne of plastic.

“We can’t have countries making commitments, and reporting performance against them, using outdated metrics and approaches that are unhelpful in guiding parties to make the best decisions for the future of mankind and other species.”


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