Engineering X and United Nations High-Level Climate Champions call for reduction and phase out of open burning of waste in Africa
Open waste burning is one of the major contributors of greenhouse gases (GHGs) and poses major health hazards owing to the cocktail of air pollutants it discharges, according to a report published this week. The report, Open burning of waste in Africa: Challenges and opportunities, has been compiled by the Engineering X Safer End of Engineered Life mission in partnership with the UN High-Level Climate Champions (UNHLC) and launched at the 9th Africities summit in Kisumu, Kenya.
Key points include:
According to the report, authored by UN High-Level Champions Waste Leads Professor Desta Mebratu and Dr Andriannah Mbandi, Sub-Saharan Africa generated around 9% of global waste as of 2016, or 180 million tonnes. About two-thirds of that is dropped in landfills and open dump sites, where it risks polluting both the local environment and global climate.
The report notes that children living near these dump sites are ingesting and inhaling toxic substances. The particulate matter emitted in the air causes lung and heart disease, cancer, infertility, low birthweight, premature birth, cognitive development problems, and premature death. Dump sites emit around 20% of the world’s methane and 11% of black carbon – two potent short-lived greenhouse gases that must be slashed in order to limit the impacts of climate change.
The study also highlights that around 70-80% of the municipal solid waste generated in African cities is recyclable – such as biodegradable waste, plastics and paper – and could be worth US$8 billion per year if kept in a circular economy. It recommends taking an engineering approach to addressing the structural deficiencies in waste management and promoting a circular economy that prioritises reuse, recycling and recovery will strengthen local manufacturing, create jobs, reduce unemployment, support inclusive and sustainable local and regional economies, and reduce air pollution and greenhouse gas emissions.
The report makes it clear that there are major challenges, but also opportunities for the region, including:
The report also calls for an expansion of the UN High-Level Climate Champions’ partnership with Engineering X, an international collaboration founded by the Royal Academy of Engineering and Lloyd’s Register Foundation, by welcoming other international and regional partners into the work – particularly in the run-up to November’s COP27 summit in Sharm El-Sheikh. The Engineering X Safer End of Engineered Life mission aims to apply engineering expertise to improving existing waste management practices and supporting design-for-waste principles and safer, more sustainable waste policies in the longer term.
In a joint foreword to the report, the UN Climate Change High-Level Champions for COP26 and COP27, Nigel Topping and Dr Mahmoud Mohieldin, say:
“The African Union has set an ambitious target for African cities to recycle at least half of their waste by 2023. Many are still far from achieving this, but according to the UN Environment Programme the goal can be met and even surpassed with a shift of organic waste to composting and bioenergy recovery, along with the refurbishment, repair, reuse and recycling of plastics, paper, metal, glass, tyres and electronic waste.
“To do this, the transformation needs to be systemic. It needs to include the informal waste recyclers who are already getting waste back into the African economy, as well as national governments, cities and development partners.”
1. Engineering X is an international collaboration, founded by the Royal Academy of Engineering and Lloyd’s Register Foundation, that brings together some of the world’s leading problem-solvers to address the great challenges of our age. Our global network of expert engineers, academics and business leaders is working to share best practice, explore new technologies, educate and train the next generation of engineers, build capacity, improve safety and deliver impact.
2. Engineering X Safer End of Engineered Life is a five-year programme with the mission to reduce the number of incidents, accidents and casualties that happen as a result of safety issues by improving existing waste management practices and supporting design-for-waste principles and safer, more sustainable waste policies in the longer term. Its objectives are:
3. The UN Climate Change High-Level Champions, Nigel Topping for the UK’s COP26 and Dr Mahmoud Mohieldin for Egypt’s COP27, are responsible for mobilising stronger, faster and more credible climate action from businesses, investors, cities and regions worldwide. The Champions’ team launched three UN-backed campaigns in the run-up to COP26 to bring these non-state actors together: the Race to Zero, for robust and science-based commitments to net zero emissions before 2050; the Race to Resilience, for commitments to build resilience by 2030; and the Glasgow Financial Alliance for Net Zero, uniting financial institutions.
4. Lloyd’s Register Foundation is an independent global charity with a unique structure and an important mission: engineering a safer world. We reduce risk and enhance the safety of the critical infrastructure that modern society relies upon in areas such as energy, transport, and food.
Our vision is to be known worldwide as a leading supporter of engineering-related research, training and education that makes a real difference in improving the safety of the critical infrastructure on which modern society relies. In support of this, we promote scientific excellence and act as a catalyst working with others to achieve maximum impact. We meet our aims by awarding grants, by direct activity, and through the societal benefit activities of our trading group, which shares our mission. Through our grant making we aim to connect science, safety and society by supporting research of the highest quality and promoting skills and education.
They have also established a team of nearly 100 global experts who work on a series of cross-cutting special programmes and engage extensively with global leaders from across governments, regions, cities, businesses, and communities. The team, which is hosted by the Rockefeller Philanthropy Advisors, is made up of a mix of pro-bono secondments, sponsored roles, volunteers, and contractors.
5. The Royal Academy of Engineering is harnessing the power of engineering to build a sustainable society and an inclusive economy that works for everyone.
In collaboration with our Fellows and partners, we’re growing talent and developing skills for the future, driving innovation and building global partnerships, and influencing policy and engaging the public.
Together we’re working to tackle the greatest challenges of our age.
Jane Sutton at the Royal Academy of Engineering
T: +44 207 766 0636
E: Jane Sutton