Philippe Roch outlines issues facing the Basel Convention and calls for commitment to develop it further

New challenges face the Basel Convention and its Parties. The Convention was developed in the 1980s to put an end to uncontrolled transboundary movements of hazardous wastes, mainly from industrialized countries to developing ones. The Third Meeting of the Conference of the Parties (COP) additionally decided to ban exports of hazardous wastes from countries belonging to the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) to non-OECD ones. The situation has now clearly improved, even though the Decision on the ban has not yet been ratified by enough Parties for it to become a legally binding part of the Convention. Nevertheless, further commitment of the Parties is still needed.

In this context, I believe that the Basel Convention must look for appropriate solutions to two major concerns. The first is transboundary movements of huge amounts of waste electrical and electronic equipment, with the considerable risk that they will not be recycled in an environmentally sound way. The second is the uncontrolled dismantling of ships.

The use of natural resources, the consumption of products and goods – and the concomitant production of waste – are still increasing worldwide. Huge amounts of municipal waste are a burden on large, rapidly expanding metropolitan areas. The resulting adverse effects on human health and on the environment show that inappropriate waste management is a very serious problem.

It has become evident that establishing a system to control transboundary movements of hazardous and household wastes is not enough. The Convention must work hard to prevent and minimize the production of hazardous and other wastes and to dispose of them in an environmentally sound way. At COP5 environment ministers reacted and produced a Ministerial Declaration on the Environmentally Sound Management of Wastes. However, we are still far from reaching this goal.

Nevertheless, there are solutions to the waste problem. Cleaner production processes and environmentally sound waste management technologies are available. They significantly reduce resource consumption and negative environmental impacts.

  • Cleaner production processes in the production chain must become incentives and advantages in the market.

  • Uncontrolled landfill sites must be closed down and remedied; state-of-the-art recycling plants, landfill sites and waste incinerators must be built; and thought must be given to using incineration capacity in upgraded state-of-the-art cement kilns.

  • Waste disposal projects must be developed and supported to help countries or regions, as in the Africa Stockpile Project for used pesticides.

State-of-the-art waste management is not excessively expensive. In my experience, it is cheaper than paying the future costs associated with not taking action. Obstacles to action – such as economic constraints, political and social factors, and lack of awareness, information and know-how – must be overcome.

The Parties could give thought to exploring possible development of the Basel Convention towards a comprehensive regulatory global waste convention, using its existing but broadly formulated content on waste management as a starting point. Work that has already begun with real projects, and with technical and legal tasks, should be continued, but should be streamlined and brought back to the original context – supporting all Parties in implementing the Basel Convention. These two possibilities are not mutually exclusive; pragmatic approaches could be the key to success.

COP7’s theme is ‘Partnership for meeting the global waste challenge’. It is my conviction that real partnerships under the Basel Convention are a key instrument for environmentally sound management of wastes. The participation of all stakeholders is an important factor in ensuring the success of the further development of the Convention and its ongoing work. The mobile phone partnership initiative – which I started together with the Secretariat of the Basel Convention – is the first work done by the Secretariat on a new partnership with the computing industry, and other partnership programmes are important as initial exemplary actions.

It is important to exploit synergies with other chemicals conventions such as the Rotterdam and Stockholm Conventions and to include this in the partnerships’ thinking. I call upon all stakeholders to increase their cooperation at all levels.

The Basel Convention cannot do everything on its own, but must be an active player. I therefore encourage Parties, signatories and non-governmental organizations to support these partnerships, to make full use of synergies and cooperation, and to make available to the Secretariat the human and financial resources needed to tackle these challenges effectively and to create a modern, integrated approach to waste management for the future

Philippe Roch is State Secretary and Director of the Swiss Agency for the Environment, Forests and Landscape and was President of COP5 of the Basel Convention.

PHOTOGRAPH: S. Shepard/UNEP/Topham

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
Philippe Roch: The Basel Convention: Ten years on (Hazardous Waste) 1999

Secretariat of the Basel Convention: