Box 2 : Egypt

BOX 2: Egypt’s CDMs: fertilizer, protesters, landfill gas and wastepickers

By Will Nham

During the 2000s, under Hosni Mubarak’s dictatorial, corrupt regime, Egypt s dictatorial, corrupt regime, EGypt  ge in the process.L’ aiming to protect them from their inhabitants.espoilation ng-based exbecame a prime candidate in a worldwide search for carbon investments. Investors searching for ideal conditions to design and implement CDM projects found Hosni Mubarak’s Egypt an enticing place. With its proximity to the EU, close economic ties, and authoritarian government, Egypt was an ideal candidate for Annex I funds. It already builds upon strong economic connections with the European Union, which is Egypt’s biggest trading partner at 11 billion euros[1]. Furthermore, its large economy is second on the African continent, only behind South Africa[2]. This creates a large pool of potential industrial projects for emissions reductions in the country.

By late 2011, Egypt hosted ten CDM projects, involving financing from Canada, France, the Netherlands, Denmark, Austria, Germany, Japan and the UK.[3] With almost three million tons of carbon emission reductions per year, Egypt is the largest host of CDMs in Africa. Energy and agriculture are the two major sectors available for CDM projects[4]. Current projects vary from gas abatement to wind power generation, with the largest CER source coming from the Abu Qir fertilizer plant just outside of Alexandria. This plant generates over a million CERs per annum: one of the largest on the continent.

Egyptians are alert to the environmental dangers of fertilizer production on the local environment. In Damietta, 150 km down the coast, protestors have been vocal against the setup of MOPCO-Agrium’s fertilizer factory. Most recently, citizens escalated their grievances into a battle with the governorate of the region. This confrontation led to a shutdown of the city by blocking roads and the city’s port where the MOPCO facilities are located [5]. Nada Hussein Rashwan writes, ‘[n]ot only do these plants cause chemical contamination, but they also allegedly use great amounts of Nile water while operating, as the nearby villages suffer severe water shortages’. Given this type of mobilisation against big industries, this has the potential to carry over to Abu Qir’s fertilizer production in Alexandria.

Another CDM project in Alexandria has been subject to much scrutiny by the public. The Onyx Alexandria landfill gas recovery and flaring plant is just one example of the failure of CDM projects in Africa. The technical mechanism for CERs mirrors many other CDM projects, most notably the Bisasar landfill in Durban, South Africa. They all extract latent methane gas from the landfills to burn and classify it as emissions reductions. Gas harvesting uncovers a hidden profit potential in landfills, often parading business interests as environmental ones. However, most gas recovery processes require unrealistically high methane recovery rates to make them environmentally beneficial.[6]

Onyx is a wholly-owned subsidiary of Veolia Environnement, a French multinational. They were brought in by the Alexandria governorate to take over the removal of solid waste in the municipality. The $446M contract to Onyx was granted by the Egyptian government in 2001, at a value ten times more than what they were paying previously[7]. They calculated that approximately 13 million tonnes of waste were to be removed during the contract period, thereby generating.7 million CERs in the ten year period[8]. The large scale of the project made it attractive to the World Bank and Egyptian government to invest in. However, in reality the project is much more modest. The initial rate of recovery of ‘fugitive gasses’ is set at 20 percent[9]. These figures are far below environmentally beneficial standards[10]. The low projections for methane recovery suggests an initial period where the gas is not fully gathered, thereby potentially doing more harm than good. Therefore, the acceptance of such programs publicises the attractive economic aspects of carbon trading, while sidelining the environmental mandate of the CDM.

The project designs have also been a disaster for the local economy. Privatisation led to increased consumer costs, in addition to the loss in public finances. Door-to-door waste collection prices also went up. Residents complained that ‘paying LE50 for the garbage clean-up is simply unbelievable’ [11]. Further, the failure of the stakeholder analysis within the UNFCCC project design phase was apparent in the case of the Onyx Alexandria landfill. ‘The zabbaleen were not included in negotiations or mentioned in the contracts that were signed between the municipality and the private firms,’[12] writes Rachel Leven. Stakeholder consultations ignored actual residents of Alexandria and focused input from Onyx and the Alexandria governorate. The zabbaleen, who are the traditional waste collectors in the community, were not recognized. They were previously accredited and paid by the government to perform the garbage removal alongside municipal workers[13], so they had the most at stake with the privatisation of the waste management system, but the process ignored their economic position and importance.

The new landfill site built at Borg al-Arab was negotiated between the city and the company, and was subsequently built in close proximity to the city’s northern resorts and Bedouin population[14]. The location of the site violated Egyptian zoning laws. This is an example of the lack of accountability to community members. Veolia handles 63 million tonnes of waste in 28 different countries[15]. However, in the context of Alexandria, zabbaleen do the jobs better than these corporations. The contracts given out only required 20 percent recycling rates, while the zabbaleen have been documented to recycle up to 80 percent of the materials[16]. In fact, this is quickly what the contracted corporations came to realise. Local door-to-door donkey driven-carts were more efficient and effective than the motorised alternatives offered by Onyx given the local geography and the culture of waste disposal. Therefore, these companies eventually subcontracted the work back to the zabbaleen to continue in their old capacities, but only offered them a fraction of what they were earning before privatisation[17]. One member gripes, ‘LE500 is not acceptable. I make around LE1,000 per month from garbage collection. It is the bare minimum. I support a big family and have already been forced to take my children out of school’ [18].

Finally, if we look at the actual function of the zabbaleen collection, we find that they are far more efficient at reducing gaseous emissions. The gas recovered by these advanced waste management systems are only caused by the lack of separation between organic and non-organic waste. The zabbaleen have been known to take most of the organic waste out of their collections[19]; the degradation of organic waste is the primary source of methane gas emissions from landfills. While methane reduction through gas flaring appears to be a technical advance from the perspective of the UNFCCC, Alexandria government, and Onyx, it is a huge failure on the part of the city residents: there should be no organic material and hence methane in the landfills. The UNFCCC did not pick up on these sorts of socio-ecological relations and political struggles as they only really acknowledge the relationship between the government and Veolia. This exemplifies the lack of thoroughness in the UNFCCC accreditation process and review.

The example of the Onyx Alexandria landfills CDM project highlights not just the environmental failure, but also the economic failure of landfill-based CDM projects. The CDM project did nothing but put a green face on a dirty use of public funds and space. Recently, Veolia announced that it would leave its Egyptian operations due to large reported losses in the last year[20]. This is a victory for the municipalities who will hopefully sensibly return to a public system that employs the zabbaleenat a fair wage. According to the Egyptian example, CDM projects fail because they support industries that do not necessarily clean up their act and only serve to hide further injustices.


[1] Koths, Dagmar and Wolfgang Sterk. 2006. Country Profile: Egypt. Wuppertal Institute for Climate, Environment, and Energy

[2] IMF. 2011. World Economic Outlook Database. http://www.imf.org/external/pubs/ft/weo/2011/01/weodata/index.aspx

[4] Koths and Sterk. 2006. Country Profile: Egypt. Wuppertal Institute for Climate, Environment, and Energy

[5] Rashwan, Nada Hussein. 2011. Angered Damietta citizens reject Cabinet decision to suspend construction in polluting factory. AhramOnline, Nov 14.

[7] Rashed, Dena. 2002. Capital Collection. Al ahram Weekly, February 28.

[8] UNFCCC. 2006. Project design document: Onyx Alexandria Landfill Gas Capture and Flaring Project.

[9] Ibid.

[11] Rashed, Dena. 2002. Capital Collection. Al ahram Weekly, February 28.

[12] Leven, Rachel. 2006. Pharaoh’s Garbage. NIMEP Insights.

[13] CID Consulting. Economic Aspects of informal sector activities in solid waste management

[14] Leven, Rachel. 2006. Pharaoh’s Garbage. NIMEP Insights.

[15] Patel, Tara. 2011. Veolia to leave 37 countries as loss spurs quicker revamp. Bloomberg, August 4.

[16] Samson, Melanie. Confronting and Engaging Privatisation. In Refusing to be cast aside: waste pickers organizing around the world.

[17] Rashed, Dena. 2002. Capital Collection. Al ahram Weekly, February 28.

[18] Rashed, Dena. 2003. Trashed Lives. Al Ahram Weekly, February 6.

[19] Fahmi, Wael and Sutton, Keith. 2006. Cairo’s Zabaleen Garbage Recyclers: Multi-nationals’ Takeover and State Relocation Plans. Habitat International, Vol 30

[20] Patel, Tara. 2011. Veolia to leave 37 countries as loss spurs quicker revamp. Bloomberg, August 4.