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"Biogas: Pathways to 2030" new World Biogas Association report

The World Biogas Association (WBA) has launched a new report highlighting the opportunity to rapidly cut the methane emissions from the huge volume of organic wastes generated annually by human activity, using the knowledge and technology that is available today.
“Appropriate management of all organic wastes must be enabled now if the world is to meet Paris Agreement targets”, says the WBA in its report.

Globally, landfills are the third-largest anthropogenic source of methane, accounting for approximately 11 percent of estimated global methane emissions or nearly 800 MtCO2e in 2010. These methane emissions arise from organic wastes, typically food waste, mixed in with all other wastes. The graph displays the top 10 countries with the greatest GHG emissions from landfills in 2010 (graphic courtesy WBA).

Launched by the World Biogas Association (WBA) on March 29, 2021, the “Biogas: Pathways to 2030” report explores how, by 2030, appropriate management of all organic wastes can enable a reduction in the amount of these wastes, especially food waste, which would itself cut global emissions by 3 percent, and; the transformation of the unavoidable organic wastes into valuable bioresources, which would cut global greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions by a further 10 percent.

Over 100 billion tonnes per annum of organic waste

Human activity currently generates 105 billion tonnes of organic wastes every year, which are releasing harmful gases into the atmosphere, particularly methane – a gas 85 times more harmful than carbon dioxide (CO2) over a 20-year period.

However, the WBA estimates that currently only 2 percent of the world’s organic wastes are effectively treated and recycled. These organic wastes are best recycled through anaerobic digestion (AD), a process that produces green energy, biofertilizers, and other bioproducts essential for the development of a sustainable circular economy.

Once all avoidable waste is prevented, the remaining unavoidable waste can be recycled into green energy for power, heat, and transport as well as biofertilizers for agriculture, bio-CO2, and other valuable bio-products.

The anaerobic digestion (AD) process helps reduce organic waste volumes, odour and closes the nutrient loop through returning digestate back to the soil. According to the World Biogas Association (WBA), there needs to be at least 1 million large scale installations, each handling over 100 000 tonnes per annum (tpa) of feedstock plus millions of smaller-scale digesters in operation by 2030 requiring some US$5 trillion of investment if the sector is to achieve its global greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions reduction potential of 12% within the next decade.

Recycling of unavoidable organic wastes through AD not only contributes towards climate change mitigation but also, by improving soils, air quality, and sanitation worldwide, towards the delivery of many of the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

Clear recommendations

The WBA report makes clear recommendations on how to deploy AD around the world, providing governments with a toolkit of measures that will enable the biogas industry to deliver carbon savings and cut the current shortfall identified by the UN in the capacity of Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs) to meet Paris Agreement targets by over a quarter.

By mapping out how AD and biogas could help countries to dramatically cut their greenhouse gas emissions, especially methane, over the next decade and beyond, this report aims to put humanity back on track to deliver on the ambitions of both the Paris Agreement and UN Sustainable Development Goals. The report highlights the fundamental part our industry can play in achieving net-zero and in creating a circular, sustainable and environmentally-friendly economy for both high- and low-income countries. Ahead of COP26, these countries should integrate AD and biogas into their NDCs if we are to successfully address the climate emergency. And they need to do so urgently, said David Newman, President of WBA.

WBA calls for governments to ensure that all unavoidable organic wastes are captured and treated through AD. There is now less than a decade left to deliver on the Paris Agreement objectives, and current NDCs only deliver 1 percent of the 45 percent reduction in GHG emissions needed to keep global warming to below 2°C by 2030.

Implementing those measures is therefore critically urgent.

Current nations’ climate plans deliver a hopeless 1 percent of the 45 percent greenhouse gas emissions reductions the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change says is required to keep climate warming to below 2 degrees C. Treating the world’s unavoidable organic wastes through AD would help meet over one-quarter of this alarming shortfall. We cannot afford to miss such an opportunity and need to act now to ensure that AD and biogas can fully play their part in addressing climate change, said Charlotte Morton, WBA Chief Executive.

Key recommendations in the report to biogas industry stakeholders, governments, and policymakers around the world include:

  • The global AD and biogas industry must come together to develop and adhere to best-in-class principles and norms associated with responsible investing (including good governance and supply chain transparency). This follows up on the Biogas Industry and Climate Change Commitment Declaration of November 2019 in which the industry pledged to put all its technical, financial, and human resources towards delivering on the global GHG reductions ambition. The Declaration was presented to the UNFCCC at COP25;
  • The global AD and biogas industry should actively contribute to science-based thought leadership around carbon pricing, accounting, and reporting, and adopt methods that successfully monitor and verify the sustainability and environmental safety of its processes;
  • Governments should include the collection and recycling of organic wastes among their target instruments when reviewing their Nationally Determined Contribution to the Paris Agreement;
  • Governments should not simply measure biogas in terms of energy, but in the overall beneficial outcomes across a whole range of environmental services and wider benefits to society;
  • Policymakers should facilitate the development of a market for the environmental benefits of biogas while enabling the industry to become independent of direct subsidy. This should be accompanied by the balanced removal of all direct support for the fossil industry to ensure there is a level playing field before any subsidies for biogas are removed;
  • Policymakers should introduce national, regional, and finally global carbon trading mechanisms to create an effective market for the climate benefits of biogas. The scope and methodology of these mechanisms must cover GHG emissions as well as methane capture and carbon sequestration from agriculture and from organic wastes generated by human activity.

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