Photo by UNEP
20 Sep 2022 Speech Nature Action

Changing the game: Zero waste for climate action

Photo by UNEP
Speech delivered by: Inger Andersen
Event: The World is Our Common Home: The Game-Changing Role of Zero Waste in Climate Action
Location: New York

Your excellency, Ermin Erdoğan, First Lady of the Republic of Turkey

My friend and Nairobi colleague Maimunah Mohd. Sharif, Executive Director of UN Habitat

Selwin Hart, Special Advisor to the UN Secretary-General on Climate Action

My deep thanks to First Lady Erdoğan for the kind invitation to speak at this important event.

The waste we produce is weighing down the planet. Every year we generate more than 2 billion tonnes of municipal solid waste. At least 33 per cent of this is not managed in an environmentally safe manner. This is expected to skyrocket to more than 3 billion tonnes by 2050. And in the regions where waste generation is rising rapidly, more than half of waste is currently openly dumped. Our waste has implications for the environment. For health. And for prosperity.

The planet’s waste challenge is part and parcel of what we at UNEP call the triple planetary crisis – the crisis of climate change, the crisis of nature and biodiversity loss and the crisis of pollution and waste. At this time of climate crisis, solid waste treatment and disposal accounts for roughly 5 per cent of global emissions. If food loss and waste were a country, it would be the third biggest source of greenhouse gas emissions. And at this time of biodiversity crisis, IPBES tells us that pollution is a critical driver of biodiversity loss. Hazardous chemicals and other pollutants (e.g. endocrine-disrupting chemicals and pharmaceutical pollutants) continue to be released in large quantities impacting human and environmental health. And at this time of the pollution and waste crisis, 11 million tonnes of plastic waste is being dumped into our oceans each year, finding its ways into the bellies of animals, into the water we drink and into us humans.

Turkey’s zero waste initiative is an important demonstration of the reality – that waste management is and must be seen as an important compliment to sustainable development. Because we cannot continue to take from the earth’s belly with abandon and then simply discard into the environment when we are done. Our consumption and production patterns are overdrawing on the earth’s capacity by 1.7 times. It is unconscionable that we continue to throw away valuable metals, resources, and food when we are so clearly in debt to the planet and inequality is on the rise world over.

I am particularly pleased at the fifth UN Environment Assembly in Nairobi earlier this year, Member states agreed to kick-start negotiations towards a legally binding global agreement to end plastic pollution. While negotiations will begin in Uruguay in a few months, if such a deal, working closely with all stakeholders, tackles head on the full life cycle of plastics use, we have a real opportunity here to spur a new plastics economy. And there is much to learn and indeed innovate from the multilateral space. Science-based solutions and learning from country experiences can guide us to develop a roadmap that will truly end plastic pollution by 2040.

There is no one-size fits all approach to tackling the environmental challenges we face. But the bottom line remains that strong national action, grounded in science, with the necessary government guardrails are critical ingredients to tackling the triple planetary crisis head on. So, I thank you for your work and I look forward to learning more about the zero waste initiative.