Will CDM help cut emissions?
The Clean Development Mechanism of the Kyoto Protocol may end up harming the environment because developed economies are using CDM to promote waste incineration in developing countries, says Toxics Link. Also see Climate Change Primer
Mail this page to a friend
November 2002 - The Kyoto Protocol, not yet in force, is an international and legally binding commitment according to which industrialized countries will reduce their combined greenhouse gas emissions by at least 5 % as compared to 1990 levels by the period 2008 to 2012. The Protocol promises to produce a historical reversal of the upward trend in emissions that started in these countries about 150 years ago. The Protocol will enter into force 90 days after it has been ratified by at least 55 Parties to the Convention, including developed countries accounting for at least 55% of the total 1990 emissions from this industrialized group. Presently 96 nations have ratified or accepted the protocol, covering a total of 37.4 % percentage of global emissions. It was pointed out at Johannesburg World Summit for Sustainable Development that if Russia and few other countries ratify the Protocol, that will help its coming into force.

Prime Minister Vajpayee and Environment Minister T R Baalu at the UNFCC meet at New Delhi in October. Photo courtesy, UNFCCC website Article 12 of the Kyoto Protocol provides for a Clean Development Mechanism (CDM) which enables developing countries to participate in joint greenhouse gas (GHG) mitigation projects. This is done by engaging in project activities that result in certified emissions reductions (CER). The protocol allows developed countries and economies in transition (Annex I countries) may use the CER accruing from such projects undertaken in developing countries, to account for their own mandated reductions in GHG emissions. The basic rules for the functioning of the CDM were agreed on at a conference held in Marrakesh, Morocco in October-November 2001. Projects starting in the year 2000 are eligible to earn Certified Emission Reductions (CER) if they lead to "real, measurable, and long-term" green house gas reductions, which are additional to any that would occur in the absence of the CDM project.

CDM is aimed at enabling developed countries meet their reduction commitments in a flexible and cost-effective manner. While investors in the Annex I countries profit from CDM projects by obtaining reductions at costs lower than in their own countries, the touted gains to the developing country host parties are in the form of finance, technology, and sustainable development benefits.

Waste incineration through CDM
Waste combustion is a toxic activity and a contributor to global warming and yet the benign-sounding CDM may end up becoming a vehicle to promote waste incineration in developing countries. Vested interests are promoting waste incineration under various names such gasification and pyrolysis (waste to electrical energy projects) as renewable energy. Energy drawn from projects that use resource incineration/gasification processes is a non-renewable energy and it cannot be used for certified emissions reductions. The fact that waste incineration leads to global warming is acknowledged in the Kyoto Protocol itself where it is listed as one of the sources of green house gases. It is true that the Kyoto Protocol mentions waste management, but what is really happening is that investors and promoters of incineration technologies into India are taking advantage of Article 10(c) of Kyoto, which seeks to facilitate transfer of or access to environmentally sound technologies pertinent to climate change.

If this direction of using CDM gains momentum, it will be a setback to the anti-incineration campaign worldwide. The United States has already introduced waste incineration as renewable energy in its Energy Bill amidst fierce opposition. Such projects are being proposed at many places around the world. In India, multinationals like the Energy Developments Limited (EDL) as well as the state-run Department of Science and Technology's TIFAC are promoting waste incineration, with support subsidies from the Indian Ministry of Non-Conventional Energy Sources (MNES). Processes such a incineration, gasification, pyrolysis are being supported on the pretext that they are a source of renewable energy, even though these technologies are totally inappropriate for Indian wastes.

Who defines Renewable Energy?
The CDM Executive Board, deliberating over the criteria for small-scale project activities with a maximum output capacity equivalent of upto 15 megawatts, defines renewable energy as "a project activity that uses partly or in its entirety sources of energy that do not use up the earth's finite mineral resources and that is replaced rapidly by the natural processes". Professor Avinash Chandra, Centre for Energy Studies, IIT Delhi says, "Renewable energy is any source of energy that can be used without depleting its reserves. The incineration/gasification processes are resource-depleting initiatives, and cannot be termed renewable."

"Incineration, gasification/pyrolysis are toxics processes which causes tar problem and can cause carboxyl poisoning," says Professor H B Mathur, renowned professor (retd.) of IIT Delhi and professor emeritus, Delhi College of Engineering. The Indian waste has a very low calorific value. One must learn from the experience of the Philippines and adopt indigenous technologies like composting for waste management, he adds.

"These projects represent certain corporate interests as opposed to the health and environment of the citizens. The Ministry of Non-conventional Energy Sources (MNES) is providing fiscal and financial incentives to compel the state governments and municipal corporations to follow the policy. What is amazing is the non-transparency of these agreements. When one questions MNES officials about these issues, their response, is intriguing. Instead of responding as citizen's representatives, the officials speak as if they are the officers of the corporate houses," says Dr D N Rao, Environment Economist, Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi.

What is emerging really is that organic waste as a fuel for electricity generation is being termed a renewable process. This is an attempt to twist scientific facts to suit vested interests. It makes a farce of Clean Development Mechanism (CDM) of Kyoto Protocol negotiations, which encourages renewable energy technologies (RETs) to reduce carbon emissions and not otherwise.

The Economic and Political Weekly aptly points out, "Climate change is a great deal about hard-headed corporate finance, and not just either academic concern over externalities or golden-hearted environmentalism".

  • UNFCCC page on CDM
  • Govt of India Climate Change     page
  • Warning signs aplenty in India
    But the Ministry of Non-Conventional Energy Sources seems to have directed all its efforts and attention at technological innovations of the multinationals and nothing at all at understanding the social and cultural patterns that influence a community's response to new technologies. The ministry itself has identified some critical factors in the way of quicker expansion: high initial cost; low perceived reliability; lack of a market environment; lack of level playing field; and failure to stabilise technology.

    A case in point: Energy Developments Limited (EDL), an Australian multinational company along with Brightstar Synfuel Corporation have signed or are negotiating more than half a dozen Resource Incineration Projects in several Indian cities like Mumbai, Jaipur, Kanpur, Bhopal and Lucknow. Even though its Solid Waste Energy Recycling Facility (SWERF) projects in Delhi and Chennai have been stopped following the detection of its polluting nature by the respective State Pollution Control Boards, the group is promoting waste incineration and incineration processes such as gasification and pyrolysis.

    India already has the experience of a costly failure of such a non-renewable energy project in Timarpur in Delhi where the plant ran for just seven days and the Indian government lost crores of rupees to a Danish Company in litigation. The Delhi High Court has asked the Comptroller Auditor General to investigate the deal in which it has been alleged that some media persons were involved. Despite this we are allowing ourselves to be misled by the incinerator technology promoters.

    Sustainable solutions of urban waste management must be appropriate in their very nature and sensitive to livelihood issues and involve communities. What is needed is a comprehensive approach entailing a packaging material policy, industry driven schemes and recycling with support to the wastepickers sector, and decentralised community based waste management programs.

    Toxics Link
    November 2002

    This article is made available on India Together by arrangement with Toxics Link, New Delhi. Toxics Link, H-2 Jungpura Extension, New Delhi 110 014. Tel: +91 11 4328006/0711.

  • Climate Change primer
  • Environmental Issues Homepage
  • Feedback: Tell us what you think of this article