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Environmental Dumping, A Perspective from Ghana

Published: 09 July, 2020

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Kofi Ady Agyarko — © Gregor Fischer / Deneff

In this article we’re pleased to feature CLASP partner Kofi Agyarko of Ghana’s Energy Commission, as part of CLASP’s #ClimateWiseCooling campaign. Mr. Agyarko’s interview supplements CLASP and IGSD’s recent publication “Environmentally Harmful Dumping of Inefficient and Obsolete Air Conditioners in Africa”.

My fight against appliance dumping started in 2006 when a report by the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research – Institute of Industrial Research (CSIR-IIR) revealed that the average consumption of a refrigerator in Ghana at the time was about five times that of one in the European Union. I was especially spurred to act after a lighting retrofit in 2007, by exchanging 6 million incandescent bulbs with same number of compact fluorescent bulbs, yielded a reduction of 124MW peak load. I realized that the economic savings from that retrofit, $33 million per annum, could build a lot of educational and health infrastructure in a developing economy like Ghana.

‘Ghana has implemented several efforts aimed at improving energy efficiency and insulating ourselves from dumping since 2005. Every low-efficiency, high-consuming cooling product that enters Ghana impedes the growth of the country and its citizens.’

In this era of rapid global warming, the widespread adoption of modern energy efficient appliances leads to lower emissions and energy costs. So why, when countries are being called upon to accelerate measures aimed at realizing the 1.5oC target, does the dumping of obsolete, inefficient and discarded appliances continue? Environmental dumping is especially prominent in Africa, where regions at the receiving end of this problem often maintain a weak manufacturing base and lack effective minimum energy performance standards (MEPS) and the institutional capacity to enforce compliance.

Unified action must be taken across stakeholders to halt the environmental and economic harm caused by environmental dumping in Africa—harm that is commanding meager resources at the expense of development. Over the years, the International Energy Agency (IEA) has provided a platform through its Global Energy Efficiency fora, for me to raise the awareness of the dumping problem and now a good number of individuals, agencies and institutions notably; German Industry Initiative for Energy Efficiency, United for Efficiency, CLASP, the Institute for Governance and Sustainable Development (IGSD), UN Environment, etc. have joined in the fight.

What is Appliance Dumping?

The Institute for Governance and Sustainable Development (IGSD ) has defined environmental dumping as “the practice of exporting products to another country or territory that:

  • Contain hazardous substances
  • Have environmental performance lower than is in the interest of consumers or that is contrary to the interests of the local and global commons
  • Can undermine the ability of the importing country to fulfill international environmental treaty commitments.”

Secondhand Dumping in Ghana

In the years between 2005 and 2019, Europe and other major manufacturing countries shipped a total of 2,886,148 used refrigerators to Ghana. To improve the energy efficiency of cooling appliances and safeguard against these numbers, we implemented the Energy Efficient Refrigeration Appliance Project (2012-2015) with support from the Green Energy Fund, the United Nations Development Programme and the Ghana Government. The Project used regulatory and economics tools that reduced the average consumption of refrigerators from 1,200kWh to 385kWh per annum, and the decline continues (see figure 1).

In 2013, Ghana’s law prohibiting the importation of used cooling appliances was the turning point for the appliance standards and labelling regime. After the law went into force, between 2013 and 2019, 41,782 used refrigerating appliances and 10,325 used air-conditioning units were seized and destroyed—a dramatic reduction. Nevertheless, the used appliances are still laden with ozone depleting substances—1,500kg of chlorofluorocarbons were recovered within a year of operation.

Ghana has implemented several efforts aimed at improving energy efficiency and insulating ourselves from dumping since 2005. Every low-efficiency, high-consuming cooling product that enters Ghana impedes the growth of the country and its citizens. But the dumping problem is expansive, and in countries with less protection, the problem can be even greater.

Environmental Dumping in Africa

Environmental dumping of also extends to new appliances, both imported and locally assembled. A new report from CLASP and IGSD examines the dumping of low efficiency, high global warming potential room air conditioners (RACs) across ten African countries that make up 96% of continent’s RAC market. The report finds that 650,000 units are being imported annually to African countries that do not meet common efficiency standards above 3.0 W/W, though their manufacturing countries—including China, Japan, South Korea, and the United States—maintain standards well above 3.0 W/W. The units also contain obsolete refrigerant chemicals that greatly exacerbate global warming.

This study quantifies the dumping problem across Africa and provides policymakers with a set of recommendations to encourage a transition to high efficiency, sustainable cooling technologies.

The effect of dumping on the environment

Inefficient cooling appliances necessitate expanded generation capacity to meet ever-growing electricity demand. In addition, users of secondhand appliances often discard them into any available space because of frequent and expensive breakdowns. Many appliances end up in street corners and release toxic materials into the atmosphere, and others end up in the dump site where scavengers set them on fire to retrieve metals, further releasing ozone depleting substances into the atmosphere.

One such dump site—the Odaw River in Accra, which decades ago could be likened to Rhine in Germany and Seine in Paris—is now a pale shadow of its past. Its water sports and fishing expeditions have given way to discarded refrigerators and other e-wastes. The rivers banks host one of the notoriously dirty spots on the globe, Agbogbloshie. Scavengers move discarded appliances to this e-waste hub where the metals are crudely salvaged.

Setting a Path to Climate-Wise Cooling

The international community, individuals, NGOs, and research institutions need to pay critical attention and come together to fight the dumping problem. Dumping nations should also be engaged as part of a transition to highly-efficient, sustainable cooling access. Over the final weeks of CLASP’s #ClimateWiseCooling campaign, CLASP will further quantify the African cooling market and explore the factors that enable environmental dumping. If Ghana, with all the regulations and the resources we’ve committed, is yet to record a year of zero dumping then the situation could be very precarious in countries without MEPS and robust enforcement capacity. The campaign will ultimately provide policymakers with a set of actionable solutions to mitigate environmental dumping, but a collective effort is necessary to combat the dumping problem from using porous borders to shift the problem to other jurisdictions.

Energy inefficient products are inimical to the development and growth of nations. Scarce foreign reserves are spent on crude oil imports to provide electricity access to few, depriving many African nations of resources to expand access to healthcare, potable drinking water, quality education, and electricity.

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To register for our upcoming webinar on environmental dumping featuring Mr. Agyarko, Gabrielle Dreyfus, and Adrian Clews, click here. Watch our latest webinars here, including a presentation of findings from CLASP and IGSD’s recent publication “Environmentally Harmful Dumping of Inefficient and Obsolete Air Conditioners in Africa”.


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