Historic agreement ends 15 year deadlock over banning North-South movements of hazardous waste

Representatives of 118 members of the Basel Convention, the global treaty on waste management, have reached a historic agreement unblocking an amendment that will ban the export of hazardous wastes from OECD to non-OECD countries, known as the Ban Amendment.

The groundbreaking decision, containing a set of measures aimed at strengthening international control of transboundary movements of hazardous wastes, was adopted on 21 October, the closing day of the 10th meeting of the Parties to the Convention (COP10), in Cartagena de Indias, Colombia.

The ground for the breakthrough was prepared by the Country Led Initiative (CLI) to Improve the Effectiveness of the Basel Convention, initiated by the Governments of Indonesia and Switzerland at the last Conference in 2008. The effort was supported by the Government of Colombia, host of the Conference.

The so-called CLI decision allows the Ban Amendment to come into force for those countries who wish to adhere to it, but also moves forward in establishing a regime for countries who wish to trade in waste to ensure the minimization of health and environmental impacts, ensuring adequate social and labour conditions and creating new economic opportunities. It clarifies the interpretation of Article 17(5) of the Convention, setting the bar for entry into force of the Ban Amendment. The amendment will enter force once an additional 17 parties ratify it.

“The results of the Cartagena conference offer a concrete example of how transformative environmental action can serve to reduce poverty and promote a healthy environment and social equity, advancing the promise of a green, sustainable economy which will be the focus of the Rio+20 conference next year,” said UN Under-Secretary General and UNEP Executive Director Achim Steiner. “All too often UN negotiations can be characterized by frustration and stalemate. The Cartagena meeting provides an antidote to such perceptions and bodes well for the next round of discussions on the way forwards towards an ambitious mercury treaty that reconvene at UNEP headquarters in Nairobi next week,” he added.

“In Cartagena, we have demonstrated that multilateralism works,” said Paula Caballero, the Colombian Ministry of Foreign Affairs officer who served as President of COP10.

“The striking progress made in Cartagena demonstrates how by working together Governments can find common ground on issues that have confounded agreement for well over a decade. Cartagena has given to the global community a model for achieving sustainable development in the field of waste management,” said Jim Willis, Executive Secretary of the Basel, Rotterdam and Stockholm Conventions.

The agreement on the Ban Amendment capped a week of negotiations between the Conference’s 700 participants. In addition to the CLI decision, the Conference in Cartagena also adopted Strategic Framework for the implementation of the Convention over the years 2012-2021, which sets out a vision, guiding principles, strategic objectives, means of implementation, and indicators of achievements. The Strategic Framework aims at strengthening the environmentally sound management of such wastes as a contribution to promoting human health, sustainable livelihoods, and eradicating poverty. Technical Guidelines were adopted on co-processing of hazardous wastes in cement kilns, environmentally sound management of mercury wastes, and environmentally sound management of used tyres, and further work was mandated on additional guidelines.

More than 25 separate decisions on matters as wide-ranging as compliance, financial assistance, private- public partnerships, and the role of the Regional Centres for Training and Technology.

The Parties also adopted the Cartagena Declaration on prevention and minimization of hazardous wastes. The declaration complements the Strategic Framework in determining the work under the Convention in years to come. It reaffirms that the Basel Convention is the primary global legal instrument for guiding the environmentally sound management of hazardous and other wastes and their disposal, including efforts to prevent and minimize their generation, and efficiently and safely manage those that cannot be avoided.

A key provision of the declaration recommends that the United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development (Rio+20) “should consider prevention, minimization and recovery of wastes as a key contribution to advancing the three pillars of sustainable development through environmentally and socially sound economic development, poverty reduction, and protection of human health and livelihoods.”

The declaration also calls for the creation of a global methodology for accurate measurement of national waste generation. This would provide a means of gauging national efforts to make progress in waste prevention.

The Cartagena meeting was the last of three related conferences of the Parties to the major chemicals and waste global treaties held in 2011. The parties to the Stockholm and Rotterdam conventions had met in April and June 2011, respectively. Decisions on synergies between the three conventions taken at the earlier meetings depended on the concurrent agreement of COP10. The Basel Convention´s Parties adopted a substantially identical decision enhancing cooperation and coordination among the Basel, Rotterdam and Stockholm Conventions and agreed on joint activities in the synergies part of the 2012-2013 work programme.

The 10th meeting of the Conference to the Parties to the Basel Convention was held from 17–21 October 2011.

The eleventh meeting of the Conference of the Parties will be held in Geneva, Switzerland, in 2013. Mr. Franz Perrez (Switzerland) was elected to serve as President of the eleventh meeting of the Conference of the Parties.
Note to editors:

The 1989 Basel Convention on the Control of Transboundary Movements of Hazardous Wastes and their Disposal is the most comprehensive global environmental treaty dealing with hazardous and other wastes. It has 178 members (Parties) and aims to protect human health and the environment against the adverse effects of the generation, management, transboundary movements and disposal of hazardous and other wastes.

The Basel Convention has two pillars. First, it regulates the transboundary movements of hazardous and other wastes. Second, the Convention obliges its Parties to ensure that such wastes are managed and disposed of in an environmentally sound manner. To this end, Parties are required to prevent or minimize the generation of wastes at source, to treat and dispose of wastes as close as possible to their place of generation and to minimize the quantities that are moved across borders. Strong controls have to be applied from the generation of a hazardous waste to its storage, transport, treatment, reuse, recycling, recovery and final disposal.

The Conference of the Parties is the supreme decision-making organ of the Basel Convention. It meets every other year to discuss programmatic and budgetary issues for the next biennium.

The Ban Amendment was adopted in 1995. Entry into force of the amendment had been mired in a controversy over the number of ratifications by Parties needed to bring this about. In the intervening decade, the quantity of transboundary movements of hazardous wastes has increased. A growing share of the international trade in hazardous waste is believed to lie outside of the framework of environmentally sound management.  

Trade in hazardous waste has grown significantly between developing countries, a trend unforeseen when the Convention was adopted more than two decades ago. Such trade is not addressed by the Ban Amendment.

Recent years have seen efforts under the Basel Convention to develop a global strategy for environmentally sound waste management. In 2002, UNEP has established under the Basel Convention a partnership addressing the environmentally sound management of used and end-of-life mobile phones, the first of several strategic partnerships in different areas of waste management.

In 2008 an additional partnership – the Partnership for Action on Computing Equipment (PACE) – was launched on used and end-of-life computing equipments. In these partnerships government representatives work together with the manufacturers, recycling industry, academic institutions and public interest NGOs.

The Basel Convention has 14 Regional and Coordinating Centres, with one or more operating on every continent. The Centres develop and undertake regional projects, and deliver training and technology transfer for the implementation of the Convention under the direction of the Conference of the Parties and of the Secretariat of the Convention.

The Cartagena meeting was held under the theme “Prevention, minimization and recovery of wastes”. It marked only the second time the Conference of the Parties has been held in the Latin American and Caribbean region. The first meeting of the Conference of the Parties to the Basel Convention was held in Piriapolis, Uruguay, in 1992.

The United Nations General Assembly has declared 2011 to be the International Year of Chemistry.


Original article published at www.uncsd2012.org

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