Vietnam’s Climate Plan Ahead of COP-26 Seriously Undermined by Waste-Burning Schemes, Report Finds

Vietnamese Civil Society Organization Joins Groups in Over 70 Countries in Open Letter Demanding Leaders Stop Burning and Dumping and Transition to a Just Circular Economy

Hanoi, VietnamAn analysis published today by the Global Alliance for Incinerator Alternatives (GAIA) finds that while Vietnam is embracing several waste reduction strategies in its climate plans, its inclusion of “waste-to-energy” incineration undermines the country’s attempts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.  The burning of one tonne of municipal waste releases 1.7 tonnes of carbon dioxide (CO2) into the atmosphere. According to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), waste management is one of three sectors with the greatest potential to reduce temperature rise in the next 10-20 years.

As part of the 2015 Paris Agreement, national governments agreed to submit plans that explain what strategies their country will employ to help reduce greenhouse gas emissions in line with the 1.5˚C target. These plans are called Nationally Determined Contributions, or NDCs, and many countries submitted updates this year in preparation for the annual UN climate talks (COP 26).

Vietnam’s NDC has several positive signs around their approach to waste management, such as the mention of composting, better source-separation, reuse, and recycling. However, the NDC does also reference “waste-to-energy” incineration, which has been shown to be the most harmful form of waste management, from a climate and human health perspective. In fact, waste incineration emits more climate pollution than coal-fired power plants. The country has several waste-burning projects in the pipeline funded by international financial institutions like Asian Development Bank, and the World Bank in Hanoi and the Bac Ninh province that have not undergone stakeholder consultations. 

The plan also includes “refuse-derived fuel,” where waste is burned in cement plants, industrial boilers, and other non-conventional burning facilities. These burning sites often do not have even the inadequate pollution controls of “waste-to-energy” incinerators, leading to dangerous emissions of not only greenhouse gases but other hazardous chemicals like heavy metals, particulate matter, and carbon monoxide, threatening the health of surrounding communities. 

Key Findings

  • Vietnam includes waste-burning (“waste-to-energy”, pyrolysis and gasification, chemical recycling, etc.) in its NDC, undermining climate goals. 
  • Plastic is made from 99% of fossil fuels, and by current projections will consume 13% of the 1.5C carbon budget by 2050, yet Vietnam has not proposed any bans or restrictions on its use and/or production.
  • Separate collection of organic waste followed by composting is the most effective means to reduce emissions of methane, a greenhouse gas 81 times more powerful than CO2 (over 20 years). Vietnam has thankfully joined the 35 countries proposing these strategies. 
  • Despite having a significant sector of informal waste workers, Vietnam has omitted any discussion of environmental justice, gender and equity, rights for informal workers, or community engagement for the waste sector, missing the chance to fight poverty and create thousands of good jobs

Quach Thi Xuan, coordinator of the Vietnam Zero Waste Alliance states, “We applaud Vietnam for including waste among prioritized sectors for GHG mitigation in its NDC for 2021-2030, however, Vietnam envisions not reduction, but considerable growth (19% in 2020-2030) in emissions from this sector under its domestic funding scenario. We think that Vietnam could set a much more ambitious goal if the right solutions to waste emissions reduction are pursued: for example, the complete phase-out of single-use plastic by 2040 and of incineration by 2050, both of which cause significant emissions. We also propose inclusion of goals for the comprehensive implementation of waste segregation as stated in the Law.”

Vietnam Zero Waste Alliance has joined over 300 GAIA organizational members around the world in an open letter to COP-26 delegates, demanding that they close the emissions gap to ensure temperatures do not rise above 1.5ºC, exclude “waste-to-energy” incineration from climate plans, stop petrochemical expansion, fossil fuel extraction, and reduce plastic production, and avoid schemes like carbon trading and offsets under the guise of a “net zero” framework. World leaders must also hold the petrochemical and plastic polluter companies accountable for plastic pollution and climate change. Just today the Break Free From Plastic movement released their annual global Brand Audit report, finding that Coca Cola Company and PepsiCo are ranked as the world’s top plastic polluters for the 4th consecutive year. 

The good news is that zero waste is an effective, affordable, inclusive and proven strategy to help prevent climate catastrophe, and hundreds of cities are already leading the way. The open letter advocates real zero targets where greenhouse gas emissions are phased out completely, and an investment in a zero waste circular economy. This would include transitioning from a single-use to a reuse-based approach to products and packaging, as well as robust social protection and income for waste pickers and workers. 

Dr. Neil Tangri, Science and Policy Director at GAIA, states: “With the climate crisis growing more urgent and deadly every day, governments are missing an important chance to employ zero waste as a common-sense, affordable strategy toward zero emissions and a sustainable economy. Ending bad practices such as the burning of waste and the overproduction of plastic will create new job and business opportunities in reuse, repair, recycling, and organics treatment.” 


Press contacts:

Quach Thi Xuan |  Coordinator of Vietnam Zero Waste Alliance | +84(973)322-325

Sonia Astudillo | Asia Pacific Regional Communications Officer  |  +63 917 5969286

Claire Arkin, Global Communications Lead | +1 ‪(856) 895-1505


GAIA is a worldwide alliance of more than 800 grassroots groups, non-governmental organizations, and individuals in over 90 countries. With our work we aim to catalyze a global shift towards environmental justice by strengthening grassroots social movements that advance solutions to waste and pollution. We envision a just, zero waste world built on respect for ecological limits and community rights, where people are free from the burden of toxic pollution, and resources are sustainably conserved, not burned or dumped.