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Katharina Kummer Peiry, Andreas R. Ziegler and Jorun Baumgartner
Edited by Katharina Kummer Peiry, Andreas R. Ziegler and Jorun Baumgartner
Significant progress has been made over the last three decades through international conferences and reports to seize the opportunities of sustainable development in view of the challenges of climate change, the limited carrying capacity of the Earth, and degrading ecosystems. In 2015, the UN General Assembly agreed on Sustainable Development Goals to guide their forward-looking Agenda 2030. Sustainable development emphasizes the enhancement of environmental, social and economic resources, with all three of them being critical to meet the needs of current and future generations. But despite the concept’s penetration into many segments of society and the rise of environmental policies throughout the world, the impact on global environmental trends has been limited. Bottlenecks in the way sustainable development has been approached in practice – with a focus on environmental protection and negative externalities – provide a basis for understanding the evolution of the Green Economy concept. In the aftermath of the last world economic crisis, the Green Economy gained attention as a concept that could overcome the connotation of environmental protection as a cost factor slowing down economic development and bring the environment and the economy into a positive relationship, in which the environment becomes an opportunity rather than a constraint, and a new driving force for economic development. Sustainability remains the vital long-term goal, but the Green Economy is describing a pathway to sustainable development. To put emphasis on the importance of including social aspects, the concept of the Green Economy has evolved and many organisations now refer to an ‘inclusive Green Economy’. As a key feature, the Green Economy promotes investments in specific areas – also broadly referred to as green sectors – which either restore and maintain natural resources or increase efficiency in their use. These investments can lead, as any other public investment, to the creation of jobs, generation of income and development of new markets but with less emissions, resource degradation and environmental pollution. While each country has its own national conditions and the design of a Green Economy and related policies will vary, key characteristics for the process of ‘greening’ can be described by: (i) an increase in the share that ‘green sectors’ contribute to the Gross Domestic Product as well as in a country’s population that is employed in these sectors; (ii) decoupling of economic growth from resource use and environmental impact; (iii) an increase in public and private investment going into green sectors; and (iv) a changing composition of aggregated consumption in which the share of environmentally friendly products and services increases. Building on UNEP’s report ‘Towards a Green Economy’, areas of policy-making which provide key enabling conditions for a green economy transition include: (i) promoting investment and spending in areas that stimulate a Green Economy (e.g. in technology, infrastructure or infant industries); (ii) limiting government spending in areas that deplete natural capital through a reduction of environmentally harmful subsidies; (iii) establishing sound regulatory frameworks that create rights, incentives, minimum standards and prohibit the most harmful forms of behaviour and substances; (iv) addressing environmental externalities and existing market failures by employing taxes and market-based instruments that promote green investment and innovation; and (v) strengthening international governance in areas where international and multilateral mechanisms regulate economic activity in addition to national laws. Depending on their current level of development, countries have different capacities to initiate and implement policy reform and cope with transformative change. Other supporting actions are therefore needed to increase capacity and strengthen institutions, provide training and skill enhancement to the workforce, and improve general education on sustainability.
Andreas R. Ziegler, Katharina Kummer Peiry and Jorun Baumgartner
Landfills are found throughout the world and represent the prevalent method of waste disposal globally. Landfill gas, composed of approximatlye equal proportions of methane and carbon dioxide, is acknowledged as a significant contributor to greenhouse gas emissions. Methane is one of the short-lived climate pollutants, requiring urgent action to mitigate. However, landfill gas also represents a potential source of ‘green’ power where it is extracted and combusted in a power generation facility. Landfill gas-to-energy projects therefore have the potential for a dual contribution to greenhouse gas reduction through mitigation of methane emissions and avoidance of fossil-fuel power. In addition, landfill gas extraction and combustion represents a key component of sustainable landfill management practices, essential for reducing the risk of gas migration and associated human and environmental impacts. Given the available and proven technology, and the cross-benefits of improved landfill gas management, landfill gas-to-energy could be viewed as a ‘low hanging fruit’ for greenhouse gas mitigation. However, despite widespread adoption of landfill gas-to-energy projects in Northern European countries, North America, and metropolitan Australia and New Zealand, the majority of landfilled waste at the global level is not subject to gas capture and extraction systems. Barriers to growth in projects include technical limitations in some poorer regions, but are primarily due to weak regulatory environments and lack of financial incentives. Historically, the major drivers for development of landfill gas-to-energy projects have been regulatory requirements and revenue generated through a combination of power sales, carbon credits and/or renewable energy certificates. At both the international and national level, uncertainty in policies governing carbon and renewable energy markets, and the consequent market instability, have compromised the growth of investment in landfill gas to energy.
Jinhui Li, Xiaofei Sun and Baoli Zhu
Although the increase of solid waste generation is a big issue faced by the whole world, it is more severe in Asian countries owing to their rapid urbanization and industrialization over the past few decades, especially in large developing countries such as China and India. In order to solve the problems relating to the energy shortage and the rapid growth of resource consumption, and to address the environmental pollution caused by solid waste generation, more and more countries in Asia are focusing on energy and resource recovery from waste. This chapter introduces the current status of waste generation and recycling in selected Asian countries, and discusses the existing problems and challenges in waste management and recycling. It is found that increasing population and economic development not only contribute to the sharp rise in solid waste generation but also to its increasing complexity and hazardousness. In contrast to the selected developed and developing countries in Asia, the overall development of waste recycling is not balanced. Because of backward technologies, environmentally sound solid waste disposal levels and resource recovery rates of solid waste in Asia is very low. Nowadays, the awareness of the public and governments of solid waste management and recycling is rising; policies and regulation systems related to solid waste have been established; and new technologies (e.g. waste incineration power generation, biomass fuel, etc.) are being developed. The chapter concludes that energy and resource recovery in Asia has tremendous market potential in the future decades.
Juliette Voïnov Kohler
The 1989 Basel Convention aims to protect human health and the environment against the negative impacts of hazardous and other wastes. Although a pre-Rio treaty, the Convention is not oblivious to social and economic concerns and contains the necessary provisions to ensure that such considerations are taken into account when achieving its environmental objective. The Basel Convention is based on a life-cycle approach: it sets out obligations pertaining to the generation of wastes and to the management of wastes, including their transboundary movements. Over the years, the parties to the Convention have given concrete meaning to the obligation to ensure the environmentally sound management of wastes. They have also striven to strengthen the treaty’s trade control regime through the adoption, in 1995, of a ban on the export of wastes from developed to developing countries. Less emphasis however was directed to the reduction of waste generation. During the Ninth Meeting of the Conference of the Parties in 2009, a decisive political push by the Indonesian President of the Conference of the Parties, relayed by Switzerland through the Country-Led Initiative, opened the door to overcoming the long-standing political deadlock over the ban. Colombia, in its capacity as host of the Tenth Meeting of the Conference of the Parties held in 2011, complemented the initiative by proposing the adoption of a Declaration on the Prevention, Minimization and Recovery of Hazardous Wastes and Other Wastes. This combination of efforts led to the historical outcomes of the Tenth Meeting of the Conference of the Parties. The meeting witnessed a paradigm shift in the Basel Convention, including the recognition of the economic potential of the environmentally sound recovery of wastes. In doing so, the parties to the Basel Convention gave concrete meaning to the green economy, a new strategic direction subsequently embraced at the Rio+20 Summit.
General principles of international environmental law provide the theoretical foundation for the development of normative frameworks in international law. In the waste management context, five general principles are particularly relevant: the principle of permanent sovereignty over natural resources and the duty not to cause transboundary harm; the principle of preventive action; the corresponding principle of cooperation; the principle of sustainable development; and the precautionary principle. Operationalization of these principles in the waste context has led to the development of new principles, such as those of self-sufficiency, proximity, waste minimization, environmentally sound management and prior informed consent, all of which are further operationalized in the detailed rules set out in the Basel Convention and other treaties dealing with waste management. This chapter examines the interpretation and application of these general principles and the role they have played in the development of the international legal regime for the management and transboundary movement of waste.
The history of the Basel Convention still needs to be written. This chapter attempts to provide a narrative based on experience and the events of the last decades. The past 25 years have seen the rise of the Basel Convention as a key international environmental instrument which aims at reducing the export of hazardous waste and ensuring that any such waste be managed in a way to protect human health and the environment. There are two interconnected factors that explain why the Convention only partially succeeded in achieving its aims. First, trade issues came into collision with the control system of the Convention, and second, a large majority of countries parties to the Convention did not and still do not possess the capacity to manage the hazardous waste they generate in an environmentally sound way. Throughout its history, parties made constant efforts to keep a balance between environmental protection and trade while implementing the Convention. This resulted in reducing the potential of the Convention to become a universal landmark for the environmentally sound waste management based on principles applicable to hazardous waste. As a consequence, and despite its concrete achievements, the Convention disappeared from the radar screen of politicians and became a technical instrument. The issue of recycling and recovery was never resolved in a satisfactory manner within the scope of the Convention. From an historical perspective, one could witness a loss of influence of the Basel Convention. One reason is that the parties, being preoccupied by the way the Convention would relate to trade, did not invest in exploring its potential to contribute to the emerging green economy movement. However, it might not be too late to face up to this new challenge.
The increasing penetration of society with electrical and electronic equipment (EEE) is resulting in growing volumes of waste. Typical of this waste is the combination of its intrinsic value due to the high content of basic and precious metals, with health and environmental hazards caused by the occurrence of toxic substances in combination with inadequate recycling practices. Based on the principle of Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR), industrialized countries have legislated Waste Electrical and Electronic Equipment (WEEE) management. As a consequence, take-back schemes have been established and innovative recycling technologies developed to recover resources from this waste stream. Although collection rates are often low and technical as well as operational aspects to recover scarce and critical metals still need to be addressed, developing countries are catching up with both increasing waste volumes and addressing the challenge with legislation and policies. Inefficient and harmful recycling technologies in the informal sector, however, still prevail.