07 May 2021

Background. Asia’s leading development financial institution, the Asian Development Bank (ADB), held its 54th ADB Annual Government Meeting on 3-5 May 2021 to discuss priority investments and critical issues affecting the region, such as climate change, post-pandemic recovery, and environmental sustainability. The annual meeting, which serves as a policy-setting space, convenes representatives from finance ministries, the private sector, development institutions, and civil society organizations (CSOs). 

In a meeting between CSOs and ADB President on May 3, Hemanthana Winthanage, International Coordinator of NGO Forum on ADB, noting that ADB still affirms its support for thermal WtEs, challenged the bank to  show real climate leadership by excluding thermal WtE from all its financing instruments. Masatsugu Asakawa, ADB President, responded that WtE 1)  opens opportunities for integrated cross-sectoral projects; 2) it is an option in support circular economy; 3) enhances the livability and health of local communities (comparing it to the environmental hazards caused by open waste dumping, and; 4) will be considered as the last resort.  The recording of the session can be accessed here (check 28:20-29:35).

In another session organized by CSOs, “Reviewing Energy Policy to Meet Paris Goal of 1.5 degrees celsius,” leading scientist Dr. Jorge Emmanuel, representing GAIA, presented evidence on why WtE incinerators should be delisted in the bank’s climate financing. In his presentation,  Emmanuel revealed that scientific evidence has shown that thermal WtE is not a climate solution and communities around the world reject WtE due to its toxic emissions, such as dioxins and furans, and its financial burden on public funding.  At the end of his presentation,  Emmanuel  called for an immediate divestment from thermal WtE immediately. “There is no reason for adopting thermal Waste-to-Energy systems in the Bank policy,” he said. . ”Time is running out, precious resources are also running out.” His presentation can be seen here and the texts can be found here.  Recorded video can be accessed here (check 52:15 – 1:01:25). 

Together with other CSOs, the Global Alliance for Incinerator Alternatives (GAIA) has been pushing for the delistment of thermal Waste-to-Energy (WtE) in ADB’s climate finance and other investment policies. Below is our statement.

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Show 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 at 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 which 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 a green, inclusive and resilient future. Time is running out. 

Media Contact: Sonia Astudillo, GAIA Asia Pacific Communications Officer sonia@no-burn.org, +63 917 5969286

Campaign Contact: Yobel Novian Putra, GAIA Asia Pacific Climate & Clean Energy Associate yobel@no-burn.org