Klaus Toepfer
United Nations Under-Secretary
General and Executive Director, UNEP

A global foundation for safeguarding public health and the environment is taking hold, giving people living today and generations to come greater assurance of protection from the risk of toxic chemicals. A central pillar is the Basel Convention on the Control of Transboundary Movements of Hazardous Wastes and their Disposal, which celebrates its 10th anniversary this year.

In December 1999, the Fifth Conference of the Parties to the Convention will meet, appropriately, in Basel, Switzerland. It will be a time to honour the many accomplishments achieved under the Treaty, including the fact that there are now 131 Parties to the Convention. They have consolidated the Convention’s control system, legal framework, and operation through improved classification of wastes and refined hazard classification.

Widening the net
Implementation is making significant gains, due to an enlarged scope that now includes patterns of production, product design, technological innovation, and consumer behaviour. Partnerships with stakeholders and the establishment and strengthening of regional centres for training and technology transfer are advancing progress still further. The result is worth celebrating – an increasingly effective international system of environmental safeguards that delivers a more secure quality of life for nations worldwide.

The December meeting will also be a time to come to grips with remaining challenges. These include liability and compensation issues, improved reporting, additional policy tools and ways of accessing international funding, and prevention and monitoring of illegal traffic in hazardous and other wastes. A bellwether item will be a declaration that looks forward to the next decade of the Convention. The vision reflected in this declaration will be an important signal for the future of international environmental protection.

Keeping the environment and people safe from harmful chemicals goes beyond sound management of wastes. It means using cleaner production philosophies to avoid the generation of hazardous wastes, changing consumer preference and patterns, and promoting the adoption and use of environmentally sound technologies in urban management. These are all priorities of UNEP.

Building foundations
A global foundation is essential for sustainable development in the next millennium, and UNEP is at the forefront of building it. UNEP is leading the way in identifying emerging issues, facilitating negotiations, providing information on alternatives and technology, and helping countries develop the technical capacity for the environmentally sound management of chemicals.

The world can take heart from the development of additional instruments of global environmental protection from toxic risks. September 1998 marked the adoption of the Rotterdam Convention on the Prior Informed Consent Procedure for Certain Hazardous Chemicals in International Trade. UNEP and the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations provide the secretariat for this Convention during the interim period before it enters into force.

Complementary treaties
The Rotterdam Convention, in many ways, is a logical complement to the Basel Convention because it applies to the transboundary movement in commerce of banned or severely restricted chemicals, as well as severely hazardous pesticide formulations. The Convention sets reporting provisions that enable Parties to make informed decisions about the import of such toxic chemicals. Until the Rotterdam Convention enters into force, which is expected in 2001, the provisions are being implemented voluntarily by the 155 governments currently participating in the voluntary Prior Informed Consent (PIC) procedure.

Negotiations are now under way on an international legally binding treaty to reduce and/or eliminate releases of persistent organic pollutants (POPs) into the environment. One hundred and fifteen countries participated in the third round of talks, and the fourth is scheduled for 20-25 March 2000 in Bonn. The negotiations, for which UNEP provides the secretariat, will be completed in 2000.

Links between the POPs treaty being negotiated and the Basel Convention are key to the evolving global foundation of safeguards. Many of the POPs under negotiation, like polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs), are significant issues under the Basel Convention. Many other POPs are found in abandoned stockpiles of obsolete pesticides, or are generated through certain waste destruction practices.

As the December anniversary of the Basel Convention approaches, let us deepen our commitment to a global foundation for safeguarding public health and the environment from toxic chemicals, and so enter a new era of sustainable development.


Contents | Editorial K. Toepfer | Celebration and challenge | Informal diplomacy | Being in earnest | International Declaration on Cleaner Production | Clean = competitive | Not on Planet Earth! | The Basel Convention | At a glance | Competition | It’s a waste | Move these poisonous mountains | Broad, global and dynamic | A monumental challenge | UNEP Chemicals | Latin lessons | Sasakawa Environment Prize | Of potholes and ozone holes | Will we learn?