Implementation of climate finance / German climate finance

Funding Unsustainable Solutions: German Climate Finance to the Waste Sector in the Global South

Industrial Waste Polluting the Planet, Photo: K.Brown, Zero Waste Europe

Non-governmental organizations (NGOs) from the GAIA network around the world have flagged that German Development Cooperation, through GIZ (Deutsche Gesellschaft für Internationale Zusammenarbeit und Entwicklung), has been involved in proposals for the waste sector that encourage the least environmentally friendly options, including technologies like co-incineration of waste and Refuse Derived Fuel (RDF) in cement kilns. This is a most worrying development, especially as Germany is also reporting these activities as climate finance. GIZ in particular appears to be playing a highly counterproductive role in development plans for the waste sector in the Global South, potentially driving climate finance investment to activities that are actually increasing greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, while severely impacting the health and ecosystems of local and vulnerable communities. Whilst in some cases GIZ investment in the waste sector is used to promote small-scale sustainable technologies, such as the biogas plants in Bangladesh (covered later in this article), the majority of the so-called climate finance goes towards large-capital projects which undermine efforts to reduce GHG emissions.

Waste burning in cement kilns – a false solution to climate change

The cement industry is a major contributor to climate change: the “Carbon Majors” study listed cement manufacturers as the only non-fossil fuel producers in the top 90 companies responsible for 63% of all GHG emissions. The production of cement, the second most consumed product in the world after water, is one of the most energy-intensive industrial processes. The cement industry across the globe is therefore committed to reduce GHG emissions.

The cement sector justifies the use of waste and biomass as fuel for two main reasons. Firstly, it argues that the use of ‘waste’ implies lower emissions of GHG since it considers that the balance of carbon released is partly neutral – taking advantage of the carbon-neutrality myth of biomass. Secondly, it states that using waste is reducing GHG emissions from landfills, where waste would presumably end up if it was not used as a fuel in the cement production process. While it may be partly true that landfills are a widespread waste management option in the Global South, this does not imply that burning this waste instead is the low-carbon, toxic-free, resource-efficient solution that is required in facing our current environmental challenges.

Waste incineration and “alternative” fuels do not only not reduce GHG and toxic emissions, but actually increase the climate and toxic emissions, especially when certain hazardous types of industrial waste or certain types of plastics are used as fuel. Cement plants do not have the means to filter volatile heavy metals (mercury, thallium, cadmium, etc.) that are present in petroleum coke and waste, neither they can filter the toxic emissions with persistent organic pollutants (POPs) such as dioxins and furans (PCDD/PCDF), which are banned under the Stockholm Convention.  POPS pose a global threat to human health and the environment due to their specific characteristics. They are toxic and persistent in the environment, can travel long distances and accumulate in the food chain. As Germany is a signatory to the Stockholm Convention, any promotion of the major sources of POP’s generation, such as waste incineration, is contrary to the intent of the convention.

The significant impact of the resulting pollution has been felt first and worst in communities that neighbour cement kilns and waste-powered energy plants, where respiratory illness, skin disease, crop loss, and deadly industrial accidents have taken their toll. In 2015, scientific research started to devote attention to this situation and came up with eye-opening results in regards to cancer rates close to cement plants as well as mapping the environmental conflicts related to waste incineration in cement plants.

The waste hierarchy; Source: Zero Waste Europe

But aside from air pollution, one of the negative impacts of waste incineration is the subversion of the waste hierarchy, the sustainability criteria for waste management and climate mitigation policies. The waste sector’s contribution to GHG emission reduction has enormous potential when support is given to the higher tiers of the waste hierarchy – including reduction, reuse, recycling, composting, biogas generation, sustainable consumption and production – and it can be a game-changer to the development of a low-carbon economy. This is especially true in the Global South, where 1% of the population make their living in the informal recycling sector and need appropriate support to operate in safe labor conditions, investing in burning materials does not only have negative environmental impacts, but also negative impacts on social and developmental issues.

GIZ’s support for waste incineration in cement plants in the Global South

GIZ is a key player in German development cooperation as well as climate finance. From 2010 to 2014 GIZ has implemented one quarter of the 9.65 billion Euros reported as climate finance by Germany, making it the second biggest implementer after the German development bank KfW. Mitigation – the category waste management projects can be allocated to – makes up one third of the projects implemented by GIZ. While a complete list of all waste projects accounted for as climate finance is not available, a search in the project database on climate projects financed by Germany shows at least 13 projects which are clearly related to waste management. Waste management therefore plays a relatively small role in climate finance. However, the GIZ advisory project on concepts for sustainable waste management (see here in the project database) which in its current phase started in 2014 has waste to energy as one of four focus topics giving an indication of its increasing relevance within GIZ.


Source: Project database on

Putting concrete numbers to GIZ’s engagement in the waste sector is also difficult. It is not possible to identify the exact amount of funding for waste treatment by GIZ, as it is reported under the same category as water and sanitation. According to the GIZ project database, 93 projects are currently financed under the category of “water and sanitation / waste treatment” with a financial volume of 641 million Euro. Nevertheless, GIZ has been identified as a key European institution promoting waste incineration in cement plants in the Global South, which has raised alarm among civil society organizations working in the waste and climate policy sector. Most importantly, GIZ has promoted waste incineration in developing countries as a climate mitigation strategy, in many cases in the context of the development of Nationally Appropriate Mitigation Actions (NAMA). In 2015, Zero Waste Europe in collaboration with GAIA Latin America and GAIA India published 3 case studies on NAMAs in the waste sector. Findings showed that GIZ was involved in these projects and has thus been promoting polluting activities in the waste sector. Case studies of different countries including these and other activities below give an overview of some findings so far.

Latin America

Solid waste management is the third or fourth largest contributor to GHG emissions in several countries in Latin America, and this figure keeps rising. Developing sustainable policies for the waste sector has become an increasingly important priority for several countries in the region, with a strong focus in reducing emissions in the waste sector. In this context, international cooperation through climate finance instruments becomes especially relevant.

Dominican Republic: GIZ has promoted plans for waste incineration in cement plants in this country through the project “Support for the implementation of the Climate Compatible Development Plan of the Dominican Republic (CCDP)“in the cement and waste sectors, commissioned by German Federal Ministry for the Environment, Nature Conservation, Building and Nuclear Safety (BMUB) (see here in the project database). This is meant to lay the foundations for a NAMA in the waste sector. Moreover, GIZ supported a seminar in the Dominican Republic about the benefits of co-incineration in 2014, together with the CEMA Foundation based in Spain, which is well-known for its greenwashing campaign for the cement industry, according to the Spanish Network Against Incineration in Cement Plants and for Zero Waste.

Mexico: GIZ has been actively promoting waste incineration in cement plants, despite the long list of acute pollution cases linked to them. In 2015, GIZ co-organized ”the International Forum “Energy Value of Urban Waste”, which received strong criticism from 9 environmental México NGOs, including local NGOs which claimed that “the main message from this conference is to reform the existing legislation to make it easier for ‘waste-to-energy’ incineration projects”. Behind the organisation of the Forum there is a Program called Aprovechamiento Energético de Residuos Urbanos – (Energy Use of Urban Waste, see here in project database), with participation of GIZ and Mexican governmental bodies. The program seeks to “promote the use of the energetic potential of municipal waste in order to “contribute to energy security”, and it explicitly considers incineration and co-incineration.


On the positive side, GIZ is a world leader in funding and implementing many beneficial projects to support countries in Asia to mitigate and/or adapt to climate change or protect their unique biodiversity. On the negative side, GIZ is also mainstreaming the formulation of economic instruments, such as feed-in-tariffs, for waste-to-energy incineration, thus promoting this polluting practice.

Bangladesh: As a positive example, through the renewable energy and energy efficiency programme (see here in the project database) GIZ supported the establishment of 1,500 biogas plants now used to provide energy for household cooking. This contributed to reducing the adverse health impacts caused by burning biomass, utilizing organic wastes from the slaughterhouse, dairy and poultry industry to generate biogas energy and safe pathogen-free compost for agriculture.

India: India has chosen waste as a sector for intervention in its INDC and NAMA and GIZ has regrettably adopted ‘waste to energy’ (WTE) incineration as a central element in these proposals. Throughout the documents, public interventions and policy papers put forward, the GIZ appears to promote the export of the German waste management model from the 1980s and 1990s, i.e. excessively  techno-enthusiastical solutions focused on waste incineration. This is done without addressing the social and political context in India or the EU policy developments in the resource, waste and circular economy agenda in recent years which are moving away from incineration. Far from acknowledging that Germany is in fact having to import waste from South Europe to feed the incineration overcapacity in the country, GIZ consultants make the case for “good” incineration in India, misleadingly promoting it as a success.

Moreover, GAIA members in the Asia Pacific Region point to the high moisture content of their waste and its unsuitability for thermal waste to energy treatment in their region which is a special area of concern in relation to well-intentioned international climate funding for renewable energy and waste management. In collaboration with Community Environmental Monitoring (CEM), GAIA released the report “Concrete Troubles” on the emissions from cement plants in India criticising the ongoing co-incineration of hazardous wastes in the cement industries. The report formed the basis for a private citizen petition in the Indian environmental court, the NGT (National Green Tribunal) in September 2015. The petition will go on to challenge the co-incineration guidelines of the Central Pollution Control Board of India which allows mass co-incineration of municipal and hazardous waste in cement plants.

Urgently needed: Changing funding patterns away from waste to energy

While further investigation is needed, findings so far show that GIZ in partnership with the cement industry is responsible for promoting industrial practices that are false solutions to climate change, causing major releases of toxic air pollution and thus impacting human health, the environment, and the climate.

On behalf of our international network GAIA and climate justice movement, we demand a change in the policy from public institutions and the global industries promoting waste burning as ‘alternative fuel’. Instead, they should defend air quality protections in key countries, resource-efficiency and zero waste strategies that can deliver much higher climate benefits, increase the resilience of the local economy and improve livelihoods in the recycling sector.

GIZ should therefore:

  • ensure accountability in its development aid and climate finance investments to the waste sector across the world. GIZ should critically review the contribution of the waste sector to climate change mitigation and sustainable development in recipient countries.
  • ensure that climate finance drives positive low-carbon transformation in the waste sector. This means withdrawing from supporting ‘waste-to-energy’ incineration and supporting alternative, clean and safe solutions based on renewable energies, energy efficiency as well as a waste treatment in accordance with the waste hierarchy.

Magdalena Donoso, GAIA Latin America
Mariel Vilella, Zero Waste Europe/GAIA
Pratibha Sharma, GAIA India
Jane Bremmer, GAIA Asia – Pacific

Sabine Minninger, Brot für die Welt
Christine Lottje, Website