Basel Convention Will Consider Plan to Give Effect to Ban on Hazardous Waste Shipments

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Proposal to Ban Hazardous Waste Shipments to Developing Countries

Key Provision: Indonesian-Swiss proposal would implement 1995 amendment to the Basel Convention barring hazardous waste shipments from OECD countries to developing nations with inadequate processing facilities.

What's Next: Proposal will be considered at the 10th Conference of the Parties to the Basel Convention, held in Cartagena, Colombia, Oct. 17–21.

By Daniel Pruzin  

GENEVA—A proposal to ban hazardous waste shipments to developing countries will be a key discussion item at the week-long 10th Conference of the Parties (COP-10) to the Basel Convention, set to begin Oct. 17 in Cartagena, Colombia.

The joint proposal from Indonesia and Switzerland would give effect to a 1995 amendment to the convention to prevent the 34 member countries of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development—that is, advanced industrialized countries—from shipping their hazardous waste to developing countries unless the recipient nation has adequate waste management facilities.

COP participants also will be asked to endorse new guidelines on the environmentally sound management of used and end-of-life computing equipment as well as new technical guidelines for the environmentally sound management of used tires, mercury waste, and hazardous waste in cement kilns.

In addition, delegates will be asked to review and approve a new strategic framework for the implementation of the Basel Convention over the 2012–2021 period.

‘Centerpiece' of Basel Convention

U.N. Environment Program Executive Director Achim Steiner has described the 1995 amendment as the “centerpiece of the Basel architecture.”

However, under Article 17(5) of the Basel Convention, amendments to the treaty can only enter into force after they have been ratified or formally approved by “at least three-fourths of the parties who accepted them.”

That language has resulted in legal uncertainty as to whether the amendment requires ratification by three-fourths of the current Basel Convention parties or only those that were parties when the amendment was adopted.

To date, 70 parties to the convention have ratified the amendment, a figure which would fall far short of the three-fourths needed for entry into force if the current membership of 178 countries were applied, but above the number required if only 1995 membership were applied.

The Indonesian-Swiss proposal calls for a COP decision stating that Article 17(5) should “be interpreted so as to mean that the acceptance of three-fourths of those Parties that were Parties at the time of the adoption of the amendment is required for the coming into force of such amendment.”

Waste Management Requirements

In addition, the proposal calls for completion of a framework of requirements for environmentally sound management of hazardous waste, as well as a review of the convention’s definition of wastes and non-wastes to insure its provisions are interpreted the same by all parties.

The proposal also would strengthening the convention’s regional and coordinating centers, combatting illegal waste shipments more effectively, and assisting vulnerable countries to prohibit imports of hazardous waste.

The proposal was first advanced by Indonesia at the 2009 COP meeting in Bali, Indonesia, and was the result of three meetings devoted to the initiative, according to Nelson Sabogal, chief of convention services with the Basel secretariat.

Accompanying provisions on environmentally sound waste management are as important as securing the entry into force of the ban amendment, Sabogal said.

“It means countries that have the capacity to manage hazardous waste, they can do it through certification schemes,” he said. “But another strong element is that countries that do not have the management capacity should not receive hazardous waste.”

Growth in Hazardous Waste Shipments

Implementation of the 1995 amendment is necessary to address the new reality of hazardous waste movements, namely the increased importance of developing countries in generating and shipping waste, Steiner said in commentary for the September Basel Convention Bulletin.

Trade in hazardous waste has grown significantly between developing countries since the 1995 amendment was adopted. According to an estimate cited by the Basel secretariat, the amount of electronic waste generated in developing countries will exceed that generated in OECD countries by 2018.

“Already, developing countries are exporting their hazardous waste to developed countries for processing,” Steiner said. “Some developing countries are exporting their wastes to other developing countries with better capacities and facilities.”

“The entry into force of the Ban Amendment will allow parties to address changes to the existing legal regime to accommodate such new developments and realities,” he said.

Colombia Supports Ban

Colombia, which is chairing the COP meeting, is a keen advocate of the ban.

But it also has expressed its willingness to compromise to take account of the new realities of transboundary waste shipment.

“We need this convention to become pragmatic in order to remain relevant,” Paula Caballero Gomez, an official with the Colombian Ministry of Foreign Affairs, told parties at a meeting in Geneva Sept. 14.

“We have to recognize the fact that, although for some countries like my own the Ban Amendment is the centerpiece of the Basel Convention, we also recognize that not all countries are going to sign on to it.”

“We therefore need to find a space and create a regime that provides for environmentally sound management of whatever waste that, of necessity, has to be generated,” she said.


More information on the 10th Conference of the Parties to the Basel Convention is available at http://cop10.basel.int/COP10/tabid/1571/Default.aspx .