Climate-change issues have been identified as a serious environmental consideration in policy agendas and also in the waste sector, greenhouse gas emissions have been recognised as an important environmental concern. This month, we hear from Nirmala Menikpura, a researcher in the Sustainable Consumption and Production (SCP) Area at IGES who developed new simulation "GHG Calculator for Solid Waste Sector" which provides a simple spreadsheet model for calculating greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions and is now starting to be used in developing countries.
Relationship between Waste Management and Climate Change
--- What is the link between waste management and global climate change?
The vast majority of the world’s climate scientists agree that human-induced increasing concentrations of greenhouse gas in the Earth’s atmosphere are causing global climate change. Greenhouse gas emissions from local waste management practices is contributing to these global climate-change issues, and such emissions have therefore been recognised as an important environmental concern.
For instance, Methane is the major greenhouse gas from the waste sector, and open dumping and landfilling has been reported as the third highest anthropogenic Methane emission source. Black carbon emission from open burning of waste which is practiced in many cities in developing countries is a critical concern. In addition, emission of Carbon Dioxide, Nitrous Oxide gases from waste transportation and operation of machinery are also significant, especially due to the utilisation of fossil-based energy.
Unfortunately, local authorities responsible for waste management do not clearly understand the linkage between waste management and climate change.
Motivation for Designing This Tool
--- What motivated you to develop this tool for local governments to quantify climate impacts from their own waste management systems?
The Sustainable Consumption and Production (SCP) Area at IGES in collaboration with local counterparts in Cambodia, Lao PDR and Thailand, conducted several capacity-building workshops for local governments over the last couple of years to promote effective ways of waste utilisation for climate-change mitigation. However, GHG estimation was quite a challenging task for personnel in local authorities since they are not very familiar with the complex equations and mathematics. Under these circumstances, if local governments want to quantify climate impacts from their own waste management systems, they need to hire a consultant, which is very expensive. Therefore, after the workshop, my colleague researcher Janya SANG-ARUN, suggested me to develop simple tool to quantify the GHG emission. This suggestion motivate me to re-think the need of a simple simulation which enables local government to quickly make estimations and then to facilitate the decision-making process on designing and selecting suitable waste management systems for climate-change mitigation.
GHG calculator for Solid Waste
--- How can users access this tool?
The current version of the simulation is available for all users free of charge. The simulation and user manual can be downloaded by using the following link.
How to apply this tool?
--- What is the scientific concept behind the development of this tool and how can ordinary users apply it?
Our aim was to develop a simple spreadsheet model to quantify the greenhouse-gas emissions from individual treatment technologies as well as from integrated waste management systems. A Life Cycle Assessment-LCA approach has been adapted for developing this simulation. This shows the path for a new way of thinking which allow us to understand the significance of materials and energy recovery from waste on greenhouse-gas mitigations.
The current version of the tool consists of eight spreadsheets to account for the climate impacts from the most prominent waste management practices in Asia-Pacific, namely; Transportation, Composting, Anaerobic Digestion, Mechanical Biological Treatment-MBT, Recycling and Mix waste landfilling. In order to quantify greenhouse gases, users are asked to enter the basic input data and select the most appropriate location-specific conditions which are aligned with the waste-management practices of their local authority. A mathematical formula has been assigned in each sheet to quantify the greenhouse gas emissions from individual treatment methods, following Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) 2006 guidelines. Further, it estimates the overall climate impact or benefit as "net greenhouse gas". Hence, the estimated net greenhouse-gas emission values from an individual treatment method can be used as tangible figures in decision-making and policy recommendation processes on selecting climate friendly waste management technologies.
A combination of a set of appropriate waste treatment methods known as the "integrated waste management" seems to be a promising approach towards sustainability. This simulation helps to quantify GHG mitigation potential from such an integrated waste management system. By entering the required data, the net greenhouse gas emissions from the integrated system will be shown, indicating the overall progress of these systems towards climate-change mitigation.
For Policy Makers
--- How useful is this kind of tool in the policy development process?
Development of this kind of user-friendly tool would be very useful for local authorities to select best-suited climate friendly technologies and also to investigate the potential for obtaining financial benefits via carbon markets. In addition, greenhouse gas emissions estimation results would be beneficial to policy-makers for recommending inclusive policy initiatives for promoting climate friendly waste management options.
Future Plan for The Tool
--- What is the plan for the future development of this tool?
Actually the current version of the simulation does not include all waste treatment technologies. Therefore, the tool is being further developed in order to include other waste management options in the region such as open burning and incineration. As far as the applicability is concerned, this version of the simulation is applicable only in countries across the Asia-Pacific. Further explanation needs to be done to enhance its applicability throughout the world.
For instance, global efforts like "the Climate and Clean Air Coalition (CCAC)", are urgently focused on developing simulations to quantify Short-Lived Climate Pollutants(*1) from improper waste management. In this initiative, IGES would serve as a collaborator and would contribute for further development of this simulation to cope with the global need. In this regard, "GHG Emission Quantification Expert Workshop" in September, is planned in Paris, France. Besides, to enhance user-friendliness, the simulation will be translated and disseminated in both English and local languages.
--- Thank you very much.
*1: Short-Lived Climate Pollutants (SLCPs) are agents that have relatively short lifetime in the atmosphere - a few days to a few decades - and a warming influence on climate. The main short lived climate pollutants are black carbon, methane and tropospheric ozone, which are the most important contributors to the human enhancement of the global greenhouse effect after CO2.
About "Monthly Asian Focus: Observations on Sustainability"
Until 2010, IGES released "Top News on the Environment in Asia" on a yearly basis. For over 12 years since its establishment of IGES in 1998, "Top News" collected and organised information about environmental issues and policy trends in the region.
In January 2011, IGES launched the new web-based series "Monthly Asian Focus: Observations on Sustainability" in which leading environmental experts deliver their take on latest trends of sustainable Asia.