How can we get waste higher on the COP agenda?


As COP27 has now begun, Circular Online is asking why the resources and waste industry isn’t higher up the agenda.

The International Solid Waste Association (ISWA) says that transitioning to a circular economy and improving waste management practices could mitigate around 20% of global greenhouse gas emissions.

Despite the impact waste has on the environment, the sector didn’t feature on the agenda – there was no mention of the circular economy, waste or recycling at last year’s event, the 2021 United Nations Climate Change Conference, which was held at the SEC Centre in Glasgow.

As COP27 has now begun in Sharm El Sheikh, Egypt, one organisation trying to make what it calls the “consumption crisis” the talking point is the Waste and Resources Action Programme (WRAP).

WRAP says that almost half of greenhouse gas emissions come from the production and consumption of food and goods. This is why, the organisation contends, society won’t limit climate change if we don’t “radically change” how we use our planet’s resources – including food, clothes and goods.

The Ellen MacArthur Foundation says that at COP we must use the opportunity to show that transitioning to a circular economy is “vital” to tackle climate change, as well as waste and biodiversity loss.

So why are WRAP still having to struggle to get waste, consumption and the circular economy talked about at COP27?

Why isn’t waste higher up the COP27 agenda?


Last year, the Chartered Institution of Wastes Management (CIWM) called for global leaders to recognise the “crucial role” that the waste and resources industry will play in supporting economy-wide decarbonisation. Then CIWM president, Dr Adam Read called the lack of waste on the COP26 agenda a “critical oversight”.

One year later, waste and resources are part of the discussions at COP27 but still not a high priority on the agenda.

Resource and waste is a constantly evolving industry with new technologies, services and innovative ideas. There are multiple ways in which the sector can contribute to the climate change conversation, so why aren’t the organisers more interested? And why isn’t the UK Government more interested in pushing the sector’s case?

One year later, waste and resources are part of the discussions at COP27 but still not a high priority on the agenda.

Whenever discussions around climate change occur, the focus is on energy and transport. Of course, these are justifiably relevant topics that need addressing but so is the circular economy.

The perception of the industry still hasn’t changed, which is a problem. The wider public doesn’t recognise that there is a link between waste and climate change. For some reason – in the UK, this could be because of delays in legislation – the work the sector does hasn’t been able to cut through in the media and political discourse.

As a sector, waste management professionals have been working to reduce climate change for years. Moving waste out of landfill, adopting better and cleaner treatment technologies and pushing for policy changes have all cut large amounts of greenhouse gases.

However, this good work can make the industries’ impact look relatively small, especially when compared to other sectors, which could be why the focus is on them.

How does waste feature at COP27?

Sharm El Sheikh
Sharm El Sheikh, Egypt, where COP27 is taking place.

Overall, WRAP is running 13 sessions throughout COP27. These include a session on promoting sustainable municipal solid waste management and the transition to a low-carbon economy in the China Pavilion. As well as a session titled Just Transition to Zero Waste Cities: A Key Strategy to Deliver the Paris Agreement in Khufu (300).

Despite discussions around waste taking place at COP, which is progress, it still isn’t on the main agenda.

Two events at COP27 will look to explore solutions to waste. One looks at how combatting plastic pollution and illegal traffic in plastic waste can help reduce carbon emissions, while the other will focus on how unmanaged waste is a “hidden cause” of climate change.

WRAP’s Interim CEO Richard Swannell is speaking at the Food4Climate Pavilion and WRAP’s Head of Policy and Insights Keith James is speaking at the China Pavilion for the Vanke Foundation.

Despite discussions around waste taking place at COP, which is progress, it still isn’t on the main agenda.

How should the sector feature on COP27’s agenda?

In a statement about how waste should feature higher on the COP27 agenda, the Policy and External Affairs Director at CIWM, Lee Marshall said: “In a way, the lack of waste topics on the agenda at COP27 is a reflection of how far we have progressed as a profession in the past two decades.”

He argues that the absence could show that the sector has been “ahead of the curve on climate change”, citing the move away from landfill as the main treatment route and the increase in recycling, which means the industry’s emissions have been greatly reduced.

The lack of waste topics on the agenda at COP27 is a reflection of how far we have progressed as a profession in the past two decades.

“This then puts the focus on other sectors ahead of ours. However, that misses the vital point that the circular economy could contribute 45% of the changes in emissions needed to halt rising temperatures.

“Given we operate at the very heart of the circular economy, it is vital that resources and waste are on the agenda when it comes to the climate conversation.

“In fact, our profession powers the circular economy, and when you consider the sector in this context, it means it’s important that we get ourselves on the agenda and more involved in the conversations at COP and other gatherings like it.”

What does the sector’s future look like?


WRAP is calling for all countries to measure and act on emissions from imported goods generated along with global supply chains, particularly those in the G7. It also wants countries to submit Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs) to COP27 and for all businesses to commit to delivering greenhouse gas targets in line with 1.5OC.

But after the sector faced an uphill battle to get on the agenda and still isn’t a focal point of discussions, perhaps achieving these goals will still be a challenge.

The circular economy presents many opportunities for businesses. Designing materials for longevity, leasing and sharing assets and upgrading or repairing products, provide organisations with a steady stream of supplies. This is not only sustainable but offers a safety net against market costs – which 2022 has proven can be volatile.

Circular principles could future-proof businesses, however, the conversation remains quiet over a potential transition. How does the sector increase the volume? Is the answer getting the industry on the COP27 agenda, or does that need to happen first before louder conversations can begin?

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