Composting in Ghana: Turning Waste Challenges into Climate Victories

By Dr Daniel Tutu Benefoh, Acting Director at the Climate Change Unit of the Environmental Protection Agency of Ghana and National Focal Point to the UNFCCC, Dr. Stephen Kansuk, Team Leader, Environment and Climate Change Specialist, UNDP Ghana, and Dr. Alexandra Soezer, Global Carbon Technical Advisor at UNDP.

December 20, 2023


In a historic moment that melds sustainable development with climate action, Ghana announced a groundbreaking waste management initiative during the 2023 Climate Change Conference (COP28) in Dubai on 2 December 2023. This initiative, authorized under Article 6 of the Paris Agreement, marks Ghana's second venture of this nature and is one of only four similar projects worldwide. It is set to revolutionize the nation's waste sector and underscores the potential of international cooperation in tackling environmental issues.


Ghana, a vibrant nation on the West African coast, finds itself at a pivotal environmental juncture. As its cities burgeon with rapid urbanization, a critical challenge emerges in the form of waste management. This issue presents both a significant obstacle and a potential avenue for innovation. The waste sector in Ghana is a notable contributor to the nation's methane emissions, accounting for a staggering 42.2 percent of the total, as highlighted in Ghana’s fourth inventory report from 2019. This figure is not merely a statistic; it represents an urgent environmental crisis with far-reaching global implications.


Remarkably, about 90 percent of Ghana’s Municipal Solid Waste (MSW) holds the potential for reuse. However, only a minimal fraction is currently recycled or composted, leading to widespread pollution of air, water, and soil. This not only harms the environment but also poses severe health risks. The new project initiated at COP28 aims to transform this narrative, offering a beacon of hope for sustainable waste management solutions.


The Methane Menace: Understanding its Role in Climate Change


Methane (CH), while less frequently spotlighted than carbon dioxide (CO), plays a significant role in global warming. Despite being often overshadowed, methane is a potent greenhouse gas whose contribution to accelerating climate change necessitates careful attention, particularly given its significant emissions from the waste sector.


Recognizing and proactively addressing methane's role is crucial in the broader fight against climate change. As Ghana navigates its waste management hurdles, it concurrently wields a potent tool in the battle against the global climate crisis: the opportunity to substantially curb methane emissions through enhanced waste practices, notably composting.


When organic waste undergoes anaerobic decomposition (without oxygen) in landfills, it generates methane. The absence of effective waste management practices, such as composting, results in more organic waste ending up in landfills, thereby increasing methane emissions. Given that a large portion of Ghana's municipal solid waste is organic, the potential for methane production is considerable.


The shift to composting can be transformative. Composting inhibits the anaerobic decomposition of organic waste, thereby cutting down methane emissions. For Ghana, this transition represents an improvement in waste management and a significant stride towards mitigating climate change.


The Power of ITMOs: pioneering sustainable change through public-private partnerships


The United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) has long been instrumental in steering global sustainability and development initiatives. Recognizing Ghana's potential for a significant shift in waste management, the Government of Ghana and UNDP are collaborating closely to spearhead transformative changes in the urban waste landscape.


Throughout the implementation of Article 6 initiatives like this one, UNDP plays a crucial role through its Carbon Payments for Development (CP4D) Facility.  From raising early-stage awareness and identifying policy gaps to establishing robust institutional frameworks, the CP4D facility is supporting several countries like Ghana to prepare for Article 6.2 implementation.


Central to this UNDP-backed project is the mechanism of ITMOs, or Internationally Transferred Mitigation Outcomes. Defined under Article 6.2 of the Paris Agreement, ITMOs facilitate the monetization of cooperative climate action through bilateral agreements. These agreements are instrumental in executing Nationally Determined Contributions (NDC) actions between countries. For composting to become a viable and financially sustainable practice in Ghana, the introduction of economic stimulants is crucial. The trading of ITMOs offers a compelling incentive, potentially transforming composting into a lucrative and environmentally beneficial activity. This approach not only promotes sustainable waste management in Ghana but also aligns with global climate goals by incentivizing eco-friendly practices through financial rewards. 


The momentum for this collaborative effort surged in 2016 following the signing of the Paris Agreement. Ghana’s Environmental Protection Agency, in partnership with the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), embarked on a strategic alignment with Article 6. This alliance was pivotal in fostering international cooperation and garnering support, key elements for actualizing Article 6.2 and accelerating a green transition. In 2019, Ghana took a proactive step by initiating voluntary cooperation under Article 6.2 of the Paris Agreement, marked by the signing of bilateral agreements with Switzerland. Central to Ghana’s commitment was a conditional pledge to overhaul its urban solid waste management systems, reliant on securing international financial aid.


In 2023, Integrated Recycling and Compost Plant Limited (IRECoP), a pioneering private waste management company in Ghana, formed a Public-Private Partnership (PPP) with the country’s Environmental Protection Agency. This collaboration was aimed at implementing a robust carbon programme with the capacity to process over 1,000 tons of Municipal Solid Waste each day. Anchored in Ghana’s Carbon Market Framework, this PPP is strategically designed to shift the waste sector from disposal-focused methods to advanced composting and recycling techniques. This forward-thinking programme symbolizes a harmonious blend of public and private sector efforts, driving sustainable waste management nationwide and sparking private investments in support of Ghana’s climate commitments. The objectives of the PPP are in perfect harmony with the principles of cooperative approaches outlined in Article 6.2, highlighting the importance of public oversight and effective fund transfer mechanisms in achieving environmental goals. 


Conclusion: Redefining environmental stewardship through collaboration


The groundbreaking waste management project in Ghana is a powerful illustration of how collaborative efforts and innovative thinking can transform formidable environmental challenges into avenues for positive change. Ghana’s partnership with the UNDP and its strategic utilization of ITMOs marks a pivotal step in confronting its waste management challenges. The initiative demonstrates the remarkable impact of international collaboration, coupled with innovative financial strategies, in fostering sustainable environmental transformations.


Despite facing obstacles like inconsistent waste sorting and a nascent market for organic waste, Ghana is overcoming these hurdles through the financial impetus provided by ITMOs. These funds are pivotal in bridging the gaps in the system, acting as a catalyst for change. Beyond their financial significance, ITMOs embody a deeper value. They are symbolic of global unity in combating climate change, allowing nations to amalgamate resources, expertise, and efforts to realize common environmental objectives. 


This transformative project in Ghana signifies more than just an environmental breakthrough. It stands as a testament to the power of collaboration and innovation in turning daunting challenges into opportunities for progress. By addressing its waste management challenges head-on, Ghana is mitigating a national crisis while also contributing substantively to global climate action efforts. The collaborative model, involving public-private partnerships and international cooperation through Article 6.2 of the Paris Agreement, offers a roadmap that can be emulated globally.