THE BASEL CONVENTION: Ten years on

Philippe Roch

In March 1989, 116 states assembled in Basel, Switzerland, to adopt the first global environmental treaty regulating transboundary movements and disposal of hazardous waste, the Basel Convention. Switzerland is proud to welcome the Fifth Conference of the Parties to the Convention again to Basel, to celebrate the achievements of the last decade and to chart the course for future work. The Basel Convention constitutes an important step in dealing with a problem of global dimensions, aiming at protecting human health and the environment against the ill-effects of hazardous wastes. Significant achievements have been made in implementing and developing the Convention during the last decade. However, its objectives have yet to be reached.

We do not know the exact amount of hazardous wastes generated in the world today, but estimates indicate a volume of 300 to 400 million tonnes a year, mostly produced in industrialized countries. Shipments of hazardous wastes from OECD to non-OECD countries have been prohibited under the Convention, thus protecting the latter from unwanted waste imports – but illegal traffic still poses a serious threat to the environment and human health.

Enhanced efforts are needed to achieve environmentally sound management of hazardous wastes worldwide. First, we must strengthen our cooperation with developing countries and countries in transition. They require continued assistance from industrialized countries in building up institutional infrastructures and in building or improving installations for the environmentally sound treatment of wastes. This includes information exchange, pilot projects on state-of-the-art or best available technologies, training and technology transfer. In certain cases – such as the problem of obsolete pesticide stocks – industrialized countries may even have a moral duty to assist developing countries by taking back wastes and disposing of them. Switzerland, as a nation hosting the headquarters of several multinational chemical companies, is working on a number of projects to help solve this problem.

Second, we must strengthen our efforts to prevent the generation of hazardous wastes, which mainly stem from industrial production processes and products. This requires strategies for cleaner production processes and more environmentally sound products. Such strategies cannot be developed and implemented successfully without the active participation of industry. Given the high cost of disposing of hazardous wastes, it seems much more economically profitable to invest money in cleaner technologies (which simultaneously save raw materials and energy), than to spend it on the residues of the production process. Preventing the generation of hazardous wastes concerns countries, but, again, developing countries and countries in transition need special assistance. To this end, Switzerland supports close cooperation between existing national centres for cleaner production and regional and subregional centres for the training and technology transfer established under the Basel Convention.

Finally, given the close linkages between hazardous waste and chemicals management, the international community should develop a global regulation network in these areas, comprising the Basel Convention and the new agreements on chemicals which are currently being negotiated. Switzerland will continue to support the existing competence centre for chemicals and the Secretariat of the Basel Convention in Geneva as the main components of such a network



Philippe Roch is State Secretary,
Director of the Swiss Agency for the Environment, Forests and Landscape.



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?