UN fails to stop globalisation of toxic waste trade

9th Meeting of the Conference of the Parties to the Basel Convention, in Bali, Indonesia.
(photo credit: ©2007, IISD).

In his visionary speech that was laced with sadness, Jim Puckett, the Guru of toxics waste issues hammered the frozen conscience of the delegates at the plenary of the COP 9 in Bali and expressed his grave disappointment at the callousness of the Basel Parties such as Japan and India in the face of an imminent "global environmental collapse."

United Nations Waste Treaty Postpones Long Awaited Toxic Waste Dumping Ban

27 June 2008 (Bali, Indonesia.) – The week-long 9th Meeting of the Conference of the Parties to the Basel Convention ended today with little progress in breaking the deadlock that is preventing a global toxic waste dumping ban from entering the force of international law. An effort promoted by Japan, Canada, New Zealand and India to require the amendment to gather 128 ratifications, instead of 62 of those that agreed to it in 1995, met a vigorous rejection led by many African and Arab countries that seek the earliest entry into force possible.

The ban was adopted as a proposed amendment to the Basel Convention in 1995 and was a goal of the developing countries since the beginning of the Convention. It has now received 63 ratifications but not all of these qualify to enter it into force as they were not present at the time of its adoption.

"It has been 13 years since the global community passed the Basel ban to end the export of toxic wastes from wealthy countries to developing countries. It is immoral to wait even one more day to secure its entry into force," said Kevin Stairs of the Basel Action Network (BAN). "Developing countries suffer enough from the ravages of hunger, poverty, infant mortality, and disease. Sending them our toxic waste, amounts to a cruel throwing of salt in the wounds, undertaken simply to increase profits at the expense of developing countries, their people and the global environment."

In response to the failure to agree on the number of Parties it takes to enter the ban into force, the Indonesian Presidency proposed a "Way Forward" paper which was adopted by the meeting. It called on Parties to expedite ratification of the Ban Amendment so as to facilitate its entry into force and further called on Parties to create enabling conditions to achieve the objectives of the Amendment in the interim period.

"The Indonesian government has the best of intentions, but unfortunately, one can not wave a magic wand and expect that Japan, they US and Canada will suddenly stop trying to undermine the ban. That is doubtful," said Jim Puckett of BAN. "But hopefully this new statement, will lead to many more ratifications that will provide momentum to break the deadlock and achieve entry into force at the next meeting in 2011."

The export of hazardous wastes, particularly post-consumer waste in the form of electronic waste and old ships has actually increased in recent years. BAN announced at the meeting that a recent visit to Guiyu, China showed that the primitive processing of electronic wastes illegally imported from countries such as USA, Canada and Japan such as open burning of components and wires, cooking of circuit boards and primitive, acid stripping of microchips to extract gold, had gotten far more extensive in the last six years.

"How is it possible that six years after having exposed this illegal global toxic waste dumping ground, the Basel Convention Parties have not taken their responsibility to put an end to this disaster?" said Jim Puckett. "The Convention risks becoming a paper tiger if it's Parties cannot implement and enforce its own rules."

BAN expressed satisfaction that the Convention also showed concern that the new treaty designed to ensure safe recycling of ships being negotiated at the International Maritime Organization, may not provide an equivalent level of control when taking into account the principles of the Basel Convention and will be conducting an assessment of it. Little has changed to improve the horrible situation found on the shipbreaking beaches of Bangladesh, India, and Pakistan where workers are killed by explosions, crushing accidents, but also are subjected to deadly toxic materials on the ships such as asbestos, PCBs, and heavy metals. Just this month 4 workers were killed in accidents on Chittagong, Bangladesh. The Parties to the Basel Convention will be conducting an assessment of the IMO Convention.

"The IMO Convention is unfortunately drafted by and for the shipping industry. It represents a giant step backwards for international principle and law," said Jim Puckett. "It does nothing to ensure that ships are recycled to meet any international minimum standard; it does not ensure that they are first cleaned of hazardous substances such as asbestos before being exported; and it fails also to ensure that ships are built with less hazardous substances in future."

Previous Meetings of the Conference of the Parties (COP) of Basel Convention

COP1 Piriapolis, Uruguay 3 - 4 December 1992 COP1 requested industrialized countries to prohibit transboundary movements of hazardous wastes for disposal to developing countries. It also noted that transboundary movements of of hazardous wastes destined for recovery and recycling take place in an environmentally sound manner.

COP2 Geneva, Switzerland 21 - 25 March 1994 Parties agreed on an inmediate ban on the export of hazardous wastes intended from final disposal from OECD to non-OECD countries. Parties also agreed to ban, by 31 December 1997 the export of wastes intended for recovery and recycling (Decision II/12).

COP3 Geneva, Switzerland 18 - 22 September 1995 The BAN was adopted as an amendment to the Convention (Decision III/1). COP3 further mandated a Technical Working Group to continue its work on the characterization of hazardous wastes and the development of lists of wastes that are hazardous (Desicion III/2). See COP3 Documents.

COP4 Kuching, Malaysia 23 - 27 February 1998 Adopted a number of decisions related to the Ban Amendment and issues related to Annex VII. COP4 decided to incorporate List A, identifying wastes characterized as hazardous and List B, identifying non-hazardous wastes as Annex VIII and Annex IX to the Basel Convention respectively.

COP5 Basel, Switzerland 6 - 10 December 1999 The meeting adopted the Protocol on Liability and Compensation and the Basel Declaration along with a decision setting the next decade's agenda. The meeting adopted a number of decisions covering Convention implementation, legal and technical matters, illegal traffic and institutional, financial and procedural arrangements.

COP6 Geneva, Switzerland 9 - 13 December 2002 The COP6 considered and adopted decisions on a range of issues relating to implementation of the Convention, amendment of the Convention and its annexes, and institutional, financial and procedural arrangements.

COP7 Geneva, Switzerland 25 - 29 October 2004 The COP had before it a compilation of decisions prepared by the Open-ended Working Group (OEWG) during the intersessional period. Delegates considered decisions on a range of issues relating to the Basel Convention Regional Centers (BCRCs), the Basel Convention Partnership Programme, institutional arrangements, the Ban Amendment, the Basel Protocol on Liability and Compensation, guidance elements for bilateral, multilateral or regional agreements, and follow-up to the World Summit on Sustainable Development (WSSD).

COP8 Nairobi, Kenya 27 November -
1 December 2006 COP8 considered several reports on activities within the Convention’s mandate and adopted a declaration on e-waste and more than 30 decisions on, inter alia: the 2007-2008 programme of work; the implementation of the Strategic Plan, including consideration of the work and operations of the Basel Convention Regional and Coordinating Centres, as well as the Basel Convention Partnership Programme; synergies and cooperation in the environmental field; e-waste and end-of-life equipment; ship dismantling; legal matters; technical matters; financial issues and the budget; amendments to the general technical guidelines for the environmentally sound management (ESM) of persistent organic pollutants wastes; the guidelines for ESM of wastes; technical guidelines for ESM of a variety of chemicals; the 2007-2008 work programme of the Open-Ended Working Group; and the election of new members of the Compliance Committee and its work programme.


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