Elliot Morley hails the successes of the Basel Convention and calls for a higher profile and a focus on strategic delivery

I have had a lifelong interest in environmental issues. The issue of hazardous waste may be perceived as the ‘poor relation’ compared with higher profile, more ‘exotic’ topics such as biodiversity loss and climate change – but I believe its environmentally sound management is crucial for the well-being of our planet. The Basel Convention represents one of the most important global agreements achieved in recent times.

Nevertheless, public perception of the management of hazardous waste tends to be rather limited, except after accidents or disasters. In this respect the Convention has, to some extent, been a victim of its own relative success in preventing incidents of uncontrolled dumping of hazardous wastes through its control system of prior informed consent.

When I look at its successes – and then ahead to what its future priorities might look like – I am convinced there is a strong case for raising the profile of the Convention and its work.

The Convention’s second decade was heralded both by the adoption of the Protocol on Liability and Compensation and by the Ministerial Declaration on Environmentally Sound Management, which sets out the framework for the environmentally sound management of hazardous waste, including preventing and minimizing it and further reducing its transboundary movements.

The Strategic Plan – agreed at the Sixth Meeting of the Conference of the Parties (COP6) – sets out how the activities and objectives envisaged by the Declaration will be translated into action, and is a good first step in delivering its aims.

Exploring synergies
However, while the Plan’s success is firmly linked with secure and adequate funding, Parties must also consider how it can be strategic in its delivery, as well as in its objectives. As we are beginning to see, the Basel Convention Regional Centres are important delivery mechanisms for the Strategic Plan. They provide an excellent opportunity to share both resources and expertise effectively, and will be particularly helpful in exploring synergies with other multilateral environmental agreements. Nevertheless, Parties must explore means of ensuring that delivery through the Centres is both effective and efficient.

Over the years the United Kingdom has made significant contributions to the work of the Convention, for example the part-funding of the used oils project in the Caribbean. We are attracted to funding projects developed and delivered through the Centres, given the regional benefits and efficiencies that they offer.

Technological advances and the advent of the digital revolution have benefited the global community in many ways, but we are beginning to witness the problems of managing and disposing of the obsolete technology being replaced. Increasing quantities of ‘technology’ wastes – such as waste electronic and electrical equipment – are already providing new challenges for the Convention. Yet I have no doubt that the resources to tackle these problems lie within its network of experts.

One of the Convention’s greatest, and most invaluable, resources is its experience and expertise, from governments, industry and environmental organizations. The United Kingdom is hopeful that Technical Guidelines on the Environmentally Sound Management of Persistent Organic Pollutants – a great example of Basel expertise being recognized and utilized in the international community – will be adopted at this COP7. The Convention also has a vital role to play in guiding the work of newer multilateral environmental agreements – such as the Stockholm Convention and the Rotterdam Convention – as they enter their initial phases; a role, for example, in providing expertise and opportunities on delivery at the regional level, and in providing the benefits of Basel’s considerable experience in operating a system of prior informed consent.

Exploration of synergies between these chemicals/waste conventions will allow all three to use resources, knowledge and expertise more effectively. Linkages with other international initiatives – particularly those on sustainable consumption and production – are also vital if we are to mobilize and use resources for the Basel Convention more effectively. The United Kingdom recognizes and strongly supports progress in this area.

The Convention has a number of opportunities to demonstrate its leadership credentials over the next few years – not least through its recently established Compliance Committee which, if suitably resourced, offers a mechanism for measuring and assisting comprehensive and constructive delivery of the Convention’s objectives. It is a unique mechanism among multilateral environmental agreements and many will be monitoring its progress.

Key objectives
Compliance and enforcement will remain key objectives over the coming years. The Multilateral Environmental Agreement Guidelines on Compliance and Enforcement are a useful tool but Parties need to consider whether they are being used as effectively as they could be, and what experience Parties have in using them. Again, expertise and experience within the Convention should be drawn upon to maximize the use of available resources.

As we move towards the second half of the decade of environmentally sound management, we will no doubt face a number of new challenges, both in terms of waste streams and in our ways of working. In the next few years we must turn our attention to delivery

Elliot Morley is Environment Minister, United Kingdom.


This issue:
Contents | Editorial K. Toepfer | Building partnerships, mobilizing resources | Much to discuss, much to do | Delivery time | Adolescence and money problems | Complete the job | Creating synergy | New challenges

Complementary articles in other issues:
Shunichi Suzuki: Slimming the Waste (Energy) 2003
Issue on Chemicals and the environment 2002
Jack Weinberg: Unpopular POPs (Global Environment Facility) 2002
Issue on Hazardous Waste 1999
Alemayehu Wodageneh: Trouble in store (Chemicals) 1997
Frank Wania and Don Mackay: Global Distillation (Chemicals) 1997

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