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Brussels urges countries to stop funding incineration

The European Commission has urged member states to gradually phase out public funding for energy recovery from mixed waste in new non-binding guidelines on waste-to-energy.

Mixed waste used as feedstock in waste-to-energy processes is expected to fall due to higher recycling targets, currently being discussed by the EU institutions, as well as separate collection obligations, the document says. This type of waste accounts for just over half of all waste converted into energy in the EU.

The Commission notes that experience in some member states has indicated a real risk of stranded assets, particularly in incineration. Member states with little incineration capacity and high reliance on landfilling should prioritise new recycling capacity and develop anaerobic digestion to treat biodegradable waste, it says.

Countries with high incineration capacity should ban new facilities while decommissioning old, less efficient ones, the document states. They are also advised to introduce higher incineration taxes for inefficient processes and phase out support schemes.

Presenting the guidelines on Thursday, Commission vice president Frans Timmermans said that creating a market for incineration should be avoided “as much as possible”. “It’s unavoidable for a small part, but only at a stage where recycling is no longer possible – and certainly should not be done before that,” he argued.

The document stresses the importance of the priority order set in the waste hierarchy in ensuring that waste-to-energy capacity does not generate stranded assets.

The Commission seeks to clarify how the hierarchy applies to various waste-to-energy processes, noting that they rank differently in terms of their sustainability.

Anaerobic digestion counts as recycling in the waste hierarchy, which is half-way up the ranking just behind prevention and preparing for reuse, according to the guidelines. Just below, they place waste incineration and co-incineration operators with a high level of energy recovery under ‘other recovery’, together with reprocessed waste used as fuel.

Only waste incineration and co-incineration with limited energy recovery are classed as disposal, the bottom category of the hierarchy, along with gas from landfills. Incineration, co-incineration in kilns and anaerobic digestion provide around 1.5% of the EU’s total final energy consumption.

However, the guidance leaves member states the opportunity to depart from the priority order if they can justify why this achieves “the best environmental outcome”. Potential reasons outlined include technical feasibility, economic viability and environmental protection.

Green group Zero Waste Europe said the recommendations provide clarity on how to implement the waste hierarchy. But it regretted that the Commission had not included its call to phase out subsidies for waste-to-energy in its proposal for a revised Renewable Energy Directive from last November, calling on MEPs and member states to do so during the legislative process.

Additional reporting by José Rojo

susanna.ala-kurikka@haymarket.com

The role of waste-to-energy in the circular economy

Download (PDF, 458KB)

A Europe powered only with renewable energy

This vision was launched in 1992 from within the world-leading power equipment company ABB.

http://airclim.org/acidnews/europe-powered-only-renewable-energy

Europe can be powered by wind (mainly offshore) and by solar power (mainly as concentrating solar power) in North Africa and southern Europe. That was the futuristic vision of Gunnar Asplund in 1992, as shown in the map.

“It was not popular within ABB,” says Asplund in 2016.

Swedish Asea merged in 1988 with Swiss Brown Boveri to create ABB. At the time, ABB tried to market nuclear reactors of Swedish origin (eventually without success) and increased its nuclear power activities by the acquisition of US Combustion Engineering. ABB also developed PFBC coal and lignite plants at the time, but had no real stake in wind and solar.

By the year 2000, ABB would divest all power plant construction. But that was eight years ahead.

The idea of a gigantic grid and big centralised solar plants and big offshore wind power plants was also controversial in the NGO community. “Small is beautiful” had a strong resonance. ABB reached out to garner support from Swedish NGOs, but with no real success.

Asplund’s idea was that most of the cost for electricity is for generation, and that transport of the power even for very long distances, need not add more than 25 per cent. Power should be produced where conditions are the best: most wind power offshore or at the coast, solar where the sun shines most, and all connected by many, long power lines.

Storage was to be supplied by existing hydropower in Norway, Sweden, Iceland and continental Europe.

It took some nerve to claim by 1992 that wind and solar power could be the future, even in a 100-year perspective. All the wind power in the world produced less than 5 TWh in 1992, solar only 0.5 TWh, adding up to the equivalent of a single nuclear reactor. Offshore wind was nowhere in 1992 and was of no significance until the 2010s. Nuclear power produced 2,100 TWh, and was still on the increase. So was fossil power almost everywhere in the world.

The 1992 vision is still controversial, but nobody doubts that wind and solar have a bright future.

The belief in renewables went hand-in-glove with the emergent technology that Asplund led at ABB Ludvika: HVDC light, the slimmer version of the high-voltage direct current cable.

To the casual observer, the map of cables all over Europe looked as if the purpose was to maximise sales of high-voltage cables.

This was indeed not so far-fetched.

“The vision served to motivate our development work,” says Asplund frankly.

HVDC Light was first tested in the late 1990s and has since been a success story for ABB, sometimes exactly the way Asplund envisioned.

The technology is indeed impressive. Asplund has a sample in his office, about 12 cm in diameter. Such a cable can conduct 1000 megawatts, the output of a nuclear reactor. HVDC is well suited not only for connecting point A to point B, but also for creating a grid, like a spider’s web.

HVDC is used for bringing offshore wind power in the North Sea to the UK and connecting Norway to the Netherlands, Germany and the UK so intermittent power can be balanced by Scandinavian hydro. ABB has also built a 2,000 kilometre 800 kV transmission line in China so hydro in one part of the country can supply power to other parts, and balance wind and solar power, where China leads the world.

So the 1992 concept works, and 100 per cent renewables is possible.

“By 2092 I hope it has looked like that for a long time,” says Asplund.

Being an impatient person, he has moved on to another futuristic field: CO2-free transport.

There are not enough biofuels in most countries. There is a rich resource of renewable electricity, but electric cars are heavy, expensive and take a long time to charge.

His solution: electric highways, where electric cars can run on direct-feed power from the road, and recharge batteries at the same time.

His company Elways (“el” means electricity in Swedish) works with the practical aspects of designing rails and connectors, and has been granted 17 patents and filed for several more. The company has received substantial support from the Swedish Energy Agency.

The cost for the car-owner, for connectors, may be a couple of hundred euros.

“It would be extremely expensive to have all roads in Sweden rebuilt for direct feed. To have it for the big roads, not so expensive,” he says.

This second future looks a lot like the first one: an all-electric all-European spider-web.

Fredrik Lundberg

The scenario from 1992., with 700 GW from solar, 300 GW from wind and 200 GW from hydro.

The scenario from 1992., with 700 GW from solar, 300 GW from wind and 200 GW from hydro.

Vision 1992, actual results 2015

Share of renewables. In 2015, the 28 nations that are now the EU member states (EU-28) produced 29 per cent of their electricity from renewables. This is far from 100 per cent, but a big improvement on the 15 per cent in 1992. Renewable electricity in 1992 was almost exclusively hydro. Hydro production has not changed much and totalled 337 TWh in 2015. The “other” renewables (than hydro) have grown from 21 TWh in 1992 to 601 TWh in 2015. Most of this increase took place after 2008.

Which renewables? Wind and solar have developed roughly as in the scenario. Biomass, not in the scenario, is of some importance, and produced more electricity than solar in Europe in 2015. Biomass, and the so far insignificant tidal and geothermal power are not intermittent and do not need long power lines. Wave power, which was not in the scenario, but would fit well in a super grid, has still not taken off.

Wind. Wind power has, so far, mainly been on land. It is all a part of a centralised grid. Turbines are much larger, more efficient and more reliable than in 1992. The offshore wind parks are even larger, and are connected pretty much according to the 1992 map.

But wind power has mainly grown outside the utilities. Small community ownership of wind parks has however been of importance for acceptance of wind power, at least in Germany.

Solar. In the 1990s and the 2000s the main potential of solar power was often thought to lie in concentrating thermal power (CSP) based on systems of lenses or mirrors.

Heat can be stored, so output can match demand and also supply power at night. CSP promised higher efficiency than photovoltaics, at least in environments with few clouds, such as in deserts. But CSP requires large-scale installations and huge investments in one steep step. This essentially did not happen. There are a few big CSP plants in Spain and Morocco, but so far it has been a sideshow to photovoltaics (PV).

Most of the PV capacity is decentralised: rooftop or small ground-level solar farms. Some of the output is used locally so as to reduce the electricity consumption. The distance between producer and user is, in this sense, not long.

The large-scale installation (utility scale) of PV is growing even faster than rooftop solar and is now the top segment in many countries. Even so, the scale is modest compared to nuclear, coal and offshore wind.

Then again: practically all PV is grid-connected, so the millions of panels add up to big effects on national and European grids and markets. Unlike the 1992 map, much solar is in central Europe (Germany and the UK) rather than in the sunnier south.

Cables from Africa. This has not happened, but the idea lived on in the gigantic DESERTEC project, which was essentially abandoned after the disarray following the Arab Spring, the disintegration of Syria and Libya and the rise of the so-called Islamic State. One power line (though AC, not HVDC) between Europe and Africa has been in operation since 1997, between Morocco and Spain, later extended with a second cable, and a third is underway. So far the cables have been mainly used for Spanish exports of power.

Cables from Iceland. Iceland has huge hydro and geothermal resources, which could be used to balance other renewables. The cables are still not there, but a UK-Iceland government task force was set up in October 2015.

Other cables. Lithuania-Sweden went into operation in 2016, and the UK-Norway link is under construction. There are fairly recent interconnections between Norway-Netherlands-UK, Finland-Estonia, UK-France (several), Italy-Greece, and Estonia-Finland-Sweden.

Editorial: No viable future for coal anywhere

http://airclim.org/acidnews/editorial-no-viable-future-coal-anywhere

The UN climate conference in Paris last December decided to limit the temperature increase to well below 2°C/1.5°C above pre-industrial levels. Climate Action Network Europe argues in a new report that “either of these targets would mean eliminating coal completely, and this is what the EU must commit to doing. The Paris Agreement sends a clear signal that there is no viable future for coal anywhere. Coal-fired generation is the quick win: 18% of Europe’s greenhouse gases came from the chimneys of just 280 coal power plants.”

The CAN-E report demands that a full coal phase-out should be one of the EU’s stated goals. This phase-out effort needs to be accompanied by dedicated support for mining regions affected by the transition from coal power and the development of clean energy with 100 per cent renewables.

In 2014, for the first time, renewables produced more electricity than coal in the EU. There are good examples from 2016 that goverments have started phasing out coal:

  • In March, Scotland witnessed the end to the coal age that fired its industrial revolution, with the closure of Longannet power station. In the UK nearly half of the coal fleet will close this year.
  • In May, the EU authorised Spain and Germany to subsidise the closure of significant parts of their coal sectors. Spain was given the green light to spend €2 billion closing 26 coal mines by 2019 and Germany to subsidise the closure of eight lignite-burning installations between 2016 and 2019, representing 13 per cent of Germany’s lignite-burning capacity.
  • In June 2016 the leaders of the G7 countries (UK, USA, Canada, France, Germany, Italy and Japan) and the EU pledged to eliminate “inefficient fossil fuel subsidies” (for coal, oil and gas) by 2025.And in June the Croatian government stopped building a new 400 MW coal power plant.
  • These are positive signs, but at the same time the coal industry is strongly promoting further coal use. The International Energy Agency is still running a clean coal centre, even though the IEA’s own policy conclusion is that no new coal plants should be built from 2016 if UN climate targets are to be reached. This summer, Green Budget

Europe criticised the UN Economic Commission Europe (UNECE) for still promoting clean coal policies. Euracoal, which has 34 coal industry members in 20 EU countries, is jointly campaigning with the World Coal Association (WCA) for “a ‘clean coal’ strategy to fight climate change”, relying on what it calls “high-efficiency, low-emissions coal combustion technologies”.

Coal is a climate killer whatever its efficiency is, argues WWF in a new report. The argument that high-efficiency coal-fired power plants are a viable solution for reducing CO2 emissions, the main cause of climate change, is completely discredited by research from Ecofys, among others. It shows that emissions from the global electricity sector need to rapidly reduce and reach close to zero globally by 2050 in order to stay well under 2°C. An even more rapid decline will be needed in order to achieve the commitment taken in Paris to “pursue efforts to limit the temperature increase to 1.5°C above pre-industrial levels”. As a result, it makes clear that in a post-Paris world, there is simply no role for coal anymore. Demand-side management and renewable energies are the solutions we need, says WWF. FOE Germany has proposed a legally binding phase-out plan for coal in Germany and in this issue of Acid News such a phase-out plan is proposed for the EU (page 12). The trend is clear. There is no more time for the EU to continue experiments with different environmental and economic measures to reduce emissions from fossil fuel plant emissions. The EU must now commit to a phase-out plan of all coal power plants, with complete closure before 2030 to avoid catastrophic climate change and to achieve many co-benefits, including the reduction of ill health and mortality for thousands of Europeans from air pollution.

Reinhold Pape

Coal kills across borders

Every coal-fired power station switched off will bring great benefits that reach beyond national borders, for both human health and the climate.

http://airclim.org/acidnews/coal-kills-across-borders

In 2013, air pollutant emissions from coal-fired power stations in the EU were responsible for over 22,900 premature deaths, tens of thousands of cases of ill-health from heart disease to bronchitis, and up to €62.3 billion in health costs. As air pollution travels far beyond national borders, a full coal phase-out in the EU would bring enormous benefits for all citizens across the continent, according to the report “Europe’s Dark Cloud: How coal-burning countries make their neighbours sick”.

Each coal power plant closed will provide major health benefits, not only for those living nearby, but also for those abroad. For example, the planned UK phase-out of coal by 2025 could save up to 2,870 lives every year, of which more than 1,300 in continental Europe. A German phase-out of coal could avoid more than 1,860 premature deaths domestically and almost 2,500 abroad every year.

The analysis of transboundary impacts shows that the five EU countries whose coal power plants do the most harm abroad are: Poland (causing 4,690 premature deaths abroad), Germany (2,490), Romania (1,660), Bulgaria (1,390) and the UK (1,350). It also shows that the countries most heavily impacted by coal pollution from neighbouring countries, in addition to that from their own plants are: Germany (3,630 premature deaths altogether), Italy (1,610), France (1,380), Greece (1,050) and Hungary (700).

The study used data from 257 (of the total of 280) coal power stations that report SO2, NOx and particulate matter (PM) emissions to the European Pollutant Release and Transfer Register (EPRTR) and for which 2013 data was available. It is noticeable that the 30 most polluting coal power plants – the “Toxic 30” – alone were responsible for more than half of the premature deaths and health costs (see figure).

“The report underlines the high costs to health that come with our reliance on coal power generation. It also debunks the myth that coal is a cheap energy source. Clearly, no country on its own can solve the problem of air pollution from energy production,” said Anne Stauffer, Deputy Director of Health and Environment Alliance (HEAL).

Looking at greenhouse gases, the 280 coal plants released 755 million tonnes of CO2, which represents around 18 per cent of the total greenhouse gas emissions in the EU. Almost half of these CO2 emissions (367 million tonnes in 2014) came from the 30 highest-emitting plants – the “Dirty 30”. Three countries are home to 19 of the “Dirty 30” plants, namely Germany (eight), Poland (six) and the UK (five).

The report recommends that a full coal phase-out should be one of the EU’s stated goals and that speeding up the process of transitioning out coal will require stiffening of specific EU policies, including a rapid and ambitious structural reform of the EU Emissions Trading System in order to put a meaningful price on carbon emissions. This should be accompanied by the introduction of an Emissions Performance Standard (EPS) for CO₂ from power plants to provide a clear investment signal for the decarbonisation of the power sector.

In addition, the Industrial Emissions Directive (IED) and National Emissions Ceilings Directive (NECD) must introduce stricter pollution limits for the emissions they cover, and EU funding instruments need to be reformed so that they aid the transition away from coal and other fossil fuels and support regions and communities with mining region transformation.

“The report shows that every coal-fired power station switched off will bring great benefits reaching beyond national borders, for both human health as well as climate” – Wendel Trio, Director of Climate Action Network Europe concluded. “After the Paris Climate Agreement, EU leaders have even more responsibility to dramatically ramp up efforts to shut down all coal power plants and swiftly move to 100 per cent renewable energy”.

Christer Ågren

Figure. The “Toxic 30” – the EU coal power plants that do the greatest health damage.

Figure. The “Toxic 30” – the EU coal power plants that do the greatest health damage.

Leaked TTIP energy proposal could ‘sabotage’ EU climate policy

EU proposal on a free trade deal with the US could curb energy saving measures and a planned switch to clean energy, say MEPs

https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2016/jul/11/leaked-ttip-energy-proposal-could-sabotage-eu-climate-policy

The latest draft version of the TTIP agreement could sabotage European efforts to save energy and switch to clean power, according to MEPs.

A 14th round of the troubled negotiations on a Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) free trade deal between the EU and US is due to begin on Monday in Brussels.

A leak obtained by the Guardian shows that the EU will propose a rollback of mandatory energy savings measures, and major obstacles to any future pricing schemes designed to encourage the uptake of renewable energies.

Environmental protections against fossil fuel extraction, logging and mining in the developing world would also come under pressure from articles in the proposed energy chapter.

Paul de Clerck, a spokesman for Friends of the Earth Europe, said the leaked document: “is in complete contradiction with Europe’s commitments to tackle climate change. It will flood the EU market with inefficient appliances, and consumers and the climate will foot the bill. The proposal will also discourage measures to promote renewable electricity production from wind and solar.”

The European commission says that the free trade deal is intended to: “promote renewable energy and energy efficiency – areas that are crucial in terms of sustainability”.

The bloc has also promised that any agreement would support its climate targets. In the period to 2020, these are binding for clean power and partly binding for energy efficiency, in the home appliance and building standards sectors.

But the draft chapter obliges the two trade blocs to: “foster industry self-regulation of energy efficiency requirements for goods where such self-regulation is likely to deliver the policy objectives faster or in a less costly manner than mandatory requirements”.

Campaigners fear that this could tip the balance in future policy debates and setback efforts to tackle climate change.

Jack Hunter, a spokesman for the European Environmental Bureau said: “Legally-binding energy standards have done wonders to lower energy bills for homes and offices, so much so that energy use has dropped even as the British economy has grown and appliances have become more power-hungry.

“Voluntary agreements have a place, but are generally ‘business as usual’ and no substitute for the real thing. If they became the norm, it would seriously harm our fight against climate change.”

Another passage in the draft text mandates that operators of energy networks grant access to gas and electricity “on commercial terms that are reasonable, transparent and non-discriminatory, including as between types of energy”.

This could create an avenue for preventing the imposition of feed-in tariffs and other support schemes to encourage the uptake of clean energy, according to lawmakers in Brussels.

The Green MEP Claude Turmes said: “These proposals are completely unacceptable. They would sabotage EU legislators’ ability to privilege renewables and energy efficiency over unsustainable fossil fuels. This is an attempt to undermine democracy in Europe.”

The environmental law consultancy, ClientEarth, was concerned that the new proposal effectively derogated responsibility for urgent climate change actions agreed at COP21 to the business sector.

“Industry is not the right entity to lead the fight against climate change,” said ClientEarth’s lawyer, Laurens Ankersmit. “It is madness for the EU and the US to rely on it in this way.”

The energy chapter negotiations began as part of an EU push for unlimited access to exports of the US’s relatively cheap liquefied natural gas, much of it derived from shale.

The EU is committed to a reduction in greenhouse gas emissions of at least 80% by 2050, as measured against 1990 levels – and pledged a 40% CO2 cut by 2030 at the Paris climate conference, last December.

But the new text says that: “the Parties must agree on a legally binding commitment to eliminate all existing restrictions on the export of natural gas in trade between them as of the date of entry into force of the Agreement”.

Other countries wanting to trade with the EU or US would also find themselves up against requirements that they remove trade barriers.

The draft says: “The Parties shall cooperate to reduce or eliminate trade and investment distorting measures in third countries affecting energy and raw materials.”

In 2013, the EU’s trade commissioner Karel de Gucht promised the multinational oil giant Exxon that the energy chapter would remove obstacles to its expansion plans in Africa and South America.

Leaked TTIP energy proposal could ‘sabotage’ EU climate policy

EU proposal on a free trade deal with the US could curb energy saving measures and a planned switch to clean energy, say MEPs

https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2016/jul/11/leaked-ttip-energy-proposal-could-sabotage-eu-climate-policy

The latest draft version of the TTIP agreement could sabotage European efforts to save energy and switch to clean power, according to MEPs.

A 14th round of the troubled negotiations on a Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) free trade deal between the EU and US is due to begin on Monday in Brussels.

A leak obtained by the Guardian shows that the EU will propose a rollback of mandatory energy savings measures, and major obstacles to any future pricing schemes designed to encourage the uptake of renewable energies.

Environmental protections against fossil fuel extraction, logging and mining in the developing world would also come under pressure from articles in the proposed energy chapter.

Paul de Clerck, a spokesman for Friends of the Earth Europe, said the leaked document: “is in complete contradiction with Europe’s commitments to tackle climate change. It will flood the EU market with inefficient appliances, and consumers and the climate will foot the bill. The proposal will also discourage measures to promote renewable electricity production from wind and solar.”

The European commission says that the free trade deal is intended to: “promote renewable energy and energy efficiency – areas that are crucial in terms of sustainability”.

The bloc has also promised that any agreement would support its climate targets. In the period to 2020, these are binding for clean power and partly binding for energy efficiency, in the home appliance and building standards sectors.

But the draft chapter obliges the two trade blocs to: “foster industry self-regulation of energy efficiency requirements for goods where such self-regulation is likely to deliver the policy objectives faster or in a less costly manner than mandatory requirements”.

Campaigners fear that this could tip the balance in future policy debates and setback efforts to tackle climate change.

Jack Hunter, a spokesman for the European Environmental Bureau said: “Legally-binding energy standards have done wonders to lower energy bills for homes and offices, so much so that energy use has dropped even as the British economy has grown and appliances have become more power-hungry.

“Voluntary agreements have a place, but are generally ‘business as usual’ and no substitute for the real thing. If they became the norm, it would seriously harm our fight against climate change.”

Another passage in the draft text mandates that operators of energy networks grant access to gas and electricity “on commercial terms that are reasonable, transparent and non-discriminatory, including as between types of energy”.

This could create an avenue for preventing the imposition of feed-in tariffs and other support schemes to encourage the uptake of clean energy, according to lawmakers in Brussels.

The Green MEP Claude Turmes said: “These proposals are completely unacceptable. They would sabotage EU legislators’ ability to privilege renewables and energy efficiency over unsustainable fossil fuels. This is an attempt to undermine democracy in Europe.”

The environmental law consultancy, ClientEarth, was concerned that the new proposal effectively derogated responsibility for urgent climate change actions agreed at COP21 to the business sector.

“Industry is not the right entity to lead the fight against climate change,” said ClientEarth’s lawyer, Laurens Ankersmit. “It is madness for the EU and the US to rely on it in this way.”

The energy chapter negotiations began as part of an EU push for unlimited access to exports of the US’s relatively cheap liquefied natural gas, much of it derived from shale.

The EU is committed to a reduction in greenhouse gas emissions of at least 80% by 2050, as measured against 1990 levels – and pledged a 40% CO2 cut by 2030 at the Paris climate conference, last December.

But the new text says that: “the Parties must agree on a legally binding commitment to eliminate all existing restrictions on the export of natural gas in trade between them as of the date of entry into force of the Agreement”.

Other countries wanting to trade with the EU or US would also find themselves up against requirements that they remove trade barriers.

The draft says: “The Parties shall cooperate to reduce or eliminate trade and investment distorting measures in third countries affecting energy and raw materials.”

In 2013, the EU’s trade commissioner Karel de Gucht promised the multinational oil giant Exxon that the energy chapter would remove obstacles to its expansion plans in Africa and South America.

Urban biowaste, a sustainable source of bioenergy?

This article was originally written by Mariel Vilella, Zero Waste Europe Associate Director & Climate, Energy & Air Pollution Campaigner for the EU BIoenergy Blog

Although most bioenergy is produced by burning agricultural and forestry biomass, it is also generated by burning the organic parts of municipal solid waste, biowaste or urban biomass. This includes food waste from restaurants, households, farmers markets, gardens, textiles, clothing, paper and other materials of organic origin. But have you ever tried to fuel a bonfire with a salad? Probably not, so this may not be the most efficient use of urban biowaste.

https://www.zerowasteeurope.eu/2016/06/urban-biowaste-a-sustainable-source-of-bioenergy/

At the EU level, urban biowaste, far from being managed by one set of straightforward policies, is instead held at the intersection of several competing mandates: the circular economy, climate, bioenergy and air pollution. Policies which have an impact, yet fail to drive the most sustainable use of this resource.

Most waste and circular economy policies aim at increasing recycling and resource efficiency of urban biowaste resources by promoting composting and biogas production, while climate and energy policies incentivize burning biowaste to generate energy under the assumption that the energy produced is ‘renewable’, ‘carbon neutral’ or ‘sustainable’. This presents a significant contradiction at the heart of EU environmental policy, one that gets particularly hot within the current sustainable bioenergy debate.

Far from being ‘sustainable’, energy from urban biowaste is often produced under very inappropriate circumstances, particularly when organic waste is mixed with the rest of residual waste (anything that cannot be recycled or reused) and sent to an incineration plant or so-called waste-to-energy plant. These plants then claim that the burning of this organic fraction is ‘bioenergy’ or ‘renewable energy’. In the UK, for example, incinerator companies can claim that an average of 50% of the energy produced is ‘renewable’ under these assumptions.[1]

Under the Waste Hierarchy, incineration of municipal solid waste is not only one of the worst options for waste treatment, it’s actually a real waste of energy and resources when one considers the low calorific value of organic waste. Incineration is a terribly unfit technology to burn organic waste which then requires a significant amount of high caloric materials to be added, e.g., plastics or other potentially recyclable or ‘redesignable’ materials so that it functions properly. Under these circumstances, efficiency and sustainability do not score highly. But even more troubling, the financial and political support that should be committed to clean, sustainable and reliable sources of energy is being misused in the most inefficient way by supporting the burning of resources which could be composted, recycled, reused or simply never wasted to begin with.

Today in the EU, harmful subsidies from renewable energy policies are one of the major obstacles to fully implementing a Circular Economy, because they continue to finance and green-wash the construction of waste-burning facilities across Europe. What should be done with urban biowaste instead? The Waste Hierarchy as seen below provides a clear detailed guideline which should be at the foundation of any policy looking at Municipal Solid Waste.

ilsr-food-waste-recovery-hierarchy

First, organic waste can be reduced through various measures, e.g., improved labeling, better portioning, awareness raising and educational campaigns around food waste and home composting. Secondly, priority should be given to the recovery of edible food so that it is targeted at human consumption first, and alternatively used as animal feed. Next, non-edible organic waste should be composted and used as fertiliser for agriculture, soil restoration and carbon sequestration. Additionally, garden trimmings, discarded food and food-soiled paper should be composted in low-tech small-scale process sites whenever possible. In larger areas, composting could be done in a centralised way with more technologically advanced systems.

As an alternative to composting, depending on local circumstances and the levels of nitrogen in the soils, non-edible organic waste should be used to produce biogas through Anaerobic Digestion technology, a truly renewable source of energy as well as soil enhancer. If there was any organic waste within the residual waste stream, a Material Recovery – Biological Treatment (MRBT) could be considered because it allows for the recovery of dry materials for further recycling and stabilizes the organic fraction prior to landfilling, with a composting-like process. In the lower tier, landfill and incineration are the least preferable and last resort options.

Ultimately, energy policies for a low-carbon economy should progressively move away from extracting as much energy as possible from waste and instead increase measures to preserve the embedded energy in products, a far more efficient and sustainable approach to resource use.

Zero Waste Europe network and many other organisations around the world have called on the European Commission to use the Waste Hierarchy to guide the EU’s post-2020 sustainable bioenergy policy and phase out harmful subsidies that support energy from waste incineration. The revision of the Renewable Energy Directive and the development of a Sustainable Policy on Bioenergy is an opportunity for Europe to become a leader in sustainable and renewable energy, but it’s critical to ensure that these sources are clean, efficient and their use evidence-based.

EU dropped climate policies after BP threat of oil industry ‘exodus’

Oil giant warned industry would pull out of EU if laws to cut pollution and speed clean energy take up were passed, letter obtained by the Guardian reveals

The EU abandoned or weakened key proposals for new environmental protections after receiving a letter from a top BP executive which warned of an exodus of the oil industry from Europe if the proposals went ahead.

In the 10-page letter, the company predicted in 2013 that a mass industry flight would result if laws to regulate tar sands, cut power plant pollution and accelerate the uptake of renewable energy were passed, because of the extra costs and red tape they allegedly entailed.

The measures “threaten to drive energy-intensive industries, such as refining and petrochemicals, to relocate outside the EU with a correspondingly detrimental impact on security of supply, jobs [and] growth,” said the letter, which was obtained by the Guardian under access to documents laws.

The missive to the EU’s energy commissioner, Günther Oettinger, was dated 9 August 2013, partly hand-written, and signed by a senior BP representative whose name has been redacted.

It references a series of “interactions” between the two men – and between BP and an unnamed third party in Washington DC – and welcomes opportunities to further discuss energy issues in an “informal manner”.

BP’s warning of a fossil fuel pull-out from Europe was repeated three times in the letter, most stridently over plans to mandate new pollution cuts and clean technologies, under the industrial emissions directive.

This reform “has the potential to have a massively adverse economic impact on the costs and competitiveness of European refining and petrochemical industries, and trigger a further exodus outside the EU,” the letter said.

The plant regulations eventually advanced by the commission would leave Europe under a weaker pollution regime than China’s, according to research by Greenpeace.

BP said any clampdown would cost industry many billions of euros and so pollution curbs “should also be carefully accessed with close co-operation with the industrial sectors”.

Last year the EU’s environment department moved to limit the coal lobby’s influence on pollution standards, after revelations by the Guardian and Greenpeace about the scale of industry involvement.

The commission had previously allowed hundreds of energy industry lobbyists to aggressively push for weaker pollution limits as part of the official negotiating teams of EU member states.

The Green MEP Molly Scott Cato said that the UK’s robust advocacy of BP’s positions was a cause of deep shame, and illustrated how Brexit would increase the power of fossil fuel firms.

She said: “It reveals how the arm-twisting tactics of big oil seek to undermine the EU’s progressive energy and climate policies. BP’s covert lobbying, combined with threats of an exodus of the petrochemicals industry from the EU, are nothing short of blackmail.

“This document paints a disturbing picture of the degree to which global corporations subvert the democratic process, influence the commission and threaten the vital transition to a cleaner, greener Europe.”

A BP spokesman said that the letter was intended to “highlight the risk of ‘carbon leakage’, where EU policy to reduce carbon emissions may result in industry relocating outside the EU, rather than achieving any actual reduction in emissions. Avoiding this perverse outcome is of critical importance to climate policy.”

In his reply to BP, Oettinger said that his department was finalising an energy prices report and “your thoughts are very valuable in this context”.

Before the report’s publication, Oettinger’s team removed figures from an earlier draft which revealed that EU states spent €40bn (£32bn) a year on subsidies for fossil fuels, compared to €35bn for nuclear energy, and just €30bn for renewables. The commissioner’s office argues that the numbers were inconsistent and “not comparable”

Early in his tenure, Oettinger had been forced to back down on plans for a moratorium on deepwater offshore oil drills in the wake of the BP Deepwater Horizon disaster.

Within two years, he had become an industry champion, arguing that Europe was competitively disadvantaged by a reluctance to take offshore drilling risks.

Oettinger regularly hosts alpine retreats for government ministers, bankers and captains of industry. In 2013, these included executives from Shell, Statoil, GDF Suez, EDF, Alstom, Enel and ENI, although not BP.

A spokeswoman for Oettinger said: “When the Commission prepares formal legislative proposals, there is a full public consultation exercise in which all stakeholders can participate.

With the majority of the EU legislation referred to, Commissioner Oettinger was not the Commissioner in the lead.”

An alignment between the commission’s eventual climate proposals and BP’s positions was “unfound,” the official added.

In his reply to BP, Oettinger said that he shared the firm’s views on a guarantee for unlimited crude oil and gas exports being included in a TTIP free trade deal and welcomed more “thoughts” from the company.

Along with Shell, BP began lobbying for an end to the EU’s renewables and energy efficiency targets in 2011, but the scope of its lobby intervention went further.

In its letter, BP strongly opposed renewable energy subsidies, particularly in Germany, and a planned cap on certain biofuels which studies have shown to be highly-polluting.

Over the year that followed, an EU state aid decision on renewables went against Germany, while a cap on the amount of first generation biofuels that could be counted towards EU targets was also weakened.

Europe’s efforts to cut carbon emissions should be built upon market-based tools such as its flagship emissions trading scheme, BP said in its letter.

But EU proposals to label tar sands oil as more polluting than other oil – which could lead to additional taxes – risked companies “being penalised subjectively on the basis of adverse perceptions”, according to BP.

The tar sands proposal was vehemently opposed by the UK and the Netherlands, and the plan was eventually dropped in 2014.

Jos Dings, the director of the sustainable transport thinktank Transport and Environment said: “In case anyone doubted why Europe chose to treat all oil – regular and high polluting – the same, here’s the answer: Big Oil telling the commission that really its impossible to tell them apart.”

Lisa Nandy, the Labour’s shadow energy and climate secretary, called for the EU’s climate policies to be strengthened. “By working together with like-minded governments across Europe we can ensure that big companies cannot water down environmental safeguards,” she said.

BP recently topped a survey of the most obstructive company on climate change, and is increasingly a target for fossil fuels divestment campaigns.

Stricter air pollution rules for machinery agreed

Emissions from non-road mobile machinery are a significant source of air pollution, especially nitrogen oxides and particulate matter.

The non-road mobile machinery (NRMM) directive – which dates back to 1997, but has been amended and extended several times since then – regulates emissions of the major air pollutants from diesel and petrol engines in a wide variety of off-road applications, including bulldozers, trains, chainsaws, larger inland ships and many other forms of machinery.

Despite the emission limits set by the NRMM directive, emissions of nitrogen oxides (NOx) and particle matter (PM) pollutants from this sector are still high and have grown in relative terms. This is explained by the steep increase in the number of non-road machines put into service and by the fact that the emission limits set for NRMM are less strict compared to those mandated for similar engines used by road vehicles.

In 2010, the NRMM sector was responsible for around 15 per cent of the total NOx emissions and 5 per cent of the total PM emissions in the EU. While the PM share is expected to decrease, the NOx share is expected to increase to nearly 20 per cent in 2020.

Against this background, in September 2014 the Commission proposed a new regulation to strengthen the emissions standards. According to the Commission’s impact assessment, the stricter standards would bring benefits of between €26.1 and 33.3 billion by 2040, while the costs would be in the range of €5.2 to 5.8 billion in the same time period.

Negotiations between the EU’s decisionmaking institutions resulted on 6 April in a deal on new pollution limits and an implementation timetable that is largely in line with the Commission’s original proposal. The main exception is a weaker emission limit for NOx from barges.

The new harmonised type-approval conditions, including emission limit values, for new engines installed in non-road mobile machinery will start to apply gradually from 2018 up to 2020 depending on the category of the engine.

Added to the agreement is the possibility of retrofit requirements for existing engines to reduce their emissions. The Commission is tasked to assess the possibility of establishing EU-wide rules in this regard by 31 December 2018.

Moreover, a review to establish whether further emissions reductions are needed is to take place by 31 December 2020, with a particular focus on barges and trains.

Environmental groups criticised the weaker rules for barges and the fact that no particle number (PN) limit had been adopted for diesel locomotives.

Julia Poliscanova, air pollution manager at Transport and Environment (T&E), said: “More diesel machines will now be required to clean up their act with diesel particulate filters. But diesel trains and inland barges shouldn’t be allowed to belch toxic fumes while the technology to clean up the emissions is available and routinely fitted to modern trucks.

Moving more goods and people by rail and water shouldn’t result in a trade off for higher air pollution.”

Regarding the possible retrofitting of existing diesel off-road machinery, Julia Poliscanova said: “The Commission should present an ambitious proposal to clean up existing trains, barges and construction machinery, which will continue to be used for decades.”

Diesel exhaust is carcinogenic, according to the World Health Organization (WHO), and diesel machines are a major local source of urban air pollution near some railway stations and construction sites. Every year air pollution causes more than 400,000 premature deaths and over 100 million sick days, costing society hundreds of billions of euro.

Before being finally adopted, the first-reading agreement will have to be confirmed by the Parliament and the Council, in accordance with the EU’s ordinary legislative procedure.

Christer Ågren

Sources: Council press release 168/16, 6 April, and T&E press release, 7 April 2016.