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The EU Policy of Subsidising Energy from Burning Waste is Worsening the Climate

Press Release:

Brussels, Belgium. 30th June 2010. GAIA’s new report “When the EU wastes the climate” warns about the negative impacts on the climate and sustainability stemming from current EU policies to reward energy from incineration.

A big part of the energy produced by European incinerators is considered to be renewable energy, which allows them to receive considerable rate premiums and subsidies. This has the effect of a false green subsidy to burn waste that could be recycled or composted. In reality these subsidies end up creating the opposite of the intended effect: more greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions in the short term, less sustainability and less incentive to green the economy.

Firstly, the report denounces the biased accounting of CO2 emitted by incinerators. Because of a mistaken understanding of the IPCC guidance up to 50% of the emissions from burning waste are not accounted for, albeit the growing consensus about the dangers of considering burning waste of biogenic origin as carbon neutral (1).

Secondly, the current directive on Renewable Energy (2009/28/EC) opens the door for subsidies and premiums to reward the generation of energy from burning the biogenic fraction of waste. This works as a market disincentive for prevention, reuse and recycling and contradicts the Waste Hierarchy spelled out in the Waste Framework Directive (2006/12/EC).

“The current system of premiums to incineration is flawed because it penalizes saving energy. Due to the fact that recycling and composting do not generate electricity they are not eligible for renewable energy premiums whilst burning waste, which generates electricity inefficiently and is a step lower in the waste hierarchy, still manages to get such reward.

The market incentives given by the Renewable Energy directive distort the waste hierarchy; burning waste is given priority before composting which is a step higher in the hierarchy.” says GAIA Europe Coordinator, JM Simon.

The report studies the situation of the premiums for energy from incineration in 4 EU countries: Flanders in Belgium, France, Italy and Spain.

On the top of the billionary grants and funding provided by the EU cohesion funds and the European Investment Bank to build new incinerators, if all the EU countries rewarded energy from incineration as the Spanish or the Belgians do the EU and member states would be spending €2.5 billion per year to promote burning resources.

If the EU countries followed the Italian scheme up to €36 billions of taxpayers money would go to subsidise energy from incineration. With this money the EU could afford to finance the EU smart grid in only 7 years!

The report calls for:

- A correct accounting of the emissions from incinerators –currently around half of its emissions are not accounted for-,

- If the subsidies and premiums to incineration are to be continued the EU should elaborate an EU policy and a methodology to calculate energy savings of prevention, reuse and recycling and make them also eligible for premiums or fiscal compensation,

- Prioritise the energy from anaerobic digestion before incineration because of its more favourable externalities in soil productivity and carbon sequestration.

“The EU has good directives for different waste-streams but it will be difficult that prevention and recycling take off in Europe as long as the money and policy go to favour incineration instead of rewarding the energy savings, lower emissions and higher sustainability provided by prevention, reuse and recycling.” concludes Simon.



For more information contact:
JM Simon, GAIA Coordinator in Europe +32 486832576