and money problems

Everton Vieira Vargas argues that mobilizing resources for implementing the Basel Convention should take precedence over urgent debates on its effectiveness and on broadening its scope

The Basel Convention has now reached ‘adolescence’ – 12 years since entering into force in May 1992. Its Seventh Meeting of the Conference of the Parties (COP7) will no doubt be influenced by the growing debate concerning its achievements and what many see as the impending necessity to broaden its scope, transforming it into a ‘global waste’ convention. Although the time is clearly favourable for a wide-ranging discussion on whether the Convention is actually performing as envisaged – and on whether it needs to be updated – one underlying issue should clearly precede this. All Parties, regardless of region and development stage, will need to focus on resource mobilization at COP7.

The primary goals of the Convention are reducing the transboundary movements of hazardous wastes and ‘other wastes’; preventing and minimizing the quantity and toxicity of wastes generated; the environmentally sound management of such wastes, preferably near their source; and actively promoting the transfer and use of cleaner technologies. Although these long-standing aims have been clearly reaffirmed by the Basel Declaration on the Environmentally Sound Management of Wastes adopted at COP5 in 1999, it is arguable whether the Convention has been successful in attaining them. From the developing countries’ point of view, promoting the transfer of technologies which are cleaner, or that promote recycling, has certainly been the weakest point.

The Convention originated from international mobilization on a problem that threatened to grow exponentially at the end of the 20th century – the indiscriminate and unregulated export of hazardous wastes from developed economies to countries absolutely unequipped to deal with them. Primarily, therefore, it has a double purpose: to reduce the generation of wastes and to help developing countries deal with hazardous wastes produced in their development process.

It has had a very positive impact on unregulated hazardous waste exports – beginning with the institution of a prior informed consent procedure – even though the problem is far from being resolved, especially in parts of Africa and in Asia.

Branching out
The Convention has branched out over the years, adopting far-ranging technical guidelines, negotiating the so-called ‘Ban Amendment’ (to ban exports of hazardous wastes from countries in the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development to other countries, but still to enter into force) and its mechanism for promoting and enforcing compliance (the Protocol on Liability and Compensation adopted in 1999, also still to enter into force). Thus, the discussion of global waste management – as opposed to hazardous waste management – reaches centre stage when many of the core issues under its scope remain partly unresolved.

The debate on global waste management is both necessary and urgent, since the definition of non-hazardous waste is rapidly changing. Nevertheless, the Parties must carefully evaluate whether this new challenge can be met by the Convention in its present stage and form, or whether it will demand new efforts in policy making and – above all – in funding. Another overriding concern is whether this debate will eventually supersede other issues before the Convention, and some of the core basic goals.

Growing concern
The Convention is open to interpretation on whether it can, or should, regulate movements of non-hazardous wastes (‘other wastes’, as mentioned in Article 1 of the Convention text). Two points support this new direction. The Convention, although primarily oriented to hazardous wastes, does not necessarily preclude the regulation of ‘other wastes’. Meanwhile there is growing concern worldwide that the concept of non-hazardous waste is rapidly changing because of lifestyle changes, with considerable effects on the perils now associated with household waste.

The definition of household waste is indeed changing rapidly, with the increasing input of hazardous substances from mobile phones, batteries, computers, paints and solvents, lamps and other items that frequently are not separated for recycling or environmentally sound management – especially in developing countries and economies in transition.

Resource mobilization becomes a major priority in the particular context of a new and complex goal to be pursued, not just for the Convention – the limitations of the Trust Fund are widely known – but for all multilateral agreements on chemical safety. On one hand, it is certainly not desirable to limit enlarging the Convention’s scope, and its potential for growth, for lack of proper funding. On the other, it seems illogical to burden the Parties – particularly developing countries – with higher financial obligations at a time when rationalizing governance has become a paramount issue in environmental negotiations.
The concept of non-hazardous waste is rapidly changing because of lifestyle changes, with considerable effects on the perils now associated with household waste
If the Convention – and other multilateral environmental agreements, for that matter – are to maintain their relevance and venture into new areas they must secure innovative ways to mobilize resources that will not put an additional burden on developing countries’ tight budgets.

Chemical safety is no doubt a growing concern among stakeholders. The multilateral system has recently acted accordingly, successfully promoting the negotiation and implementation of internationally binding legal instruments designed to address it. The Stockholm Convention on Persistent Organic Pollutants and the Rotterdam Convention on the Prior Informed Consent Procedure for Certain Hazardous Chemicals and Pesticides in International Trade have recently entered into force. The Rotterdam Convention held its first Conference of the Parties in September 2004, while the Stockholm Convention will kick off in May 2005. Combining these with the work already performed by the Basel Convention – and taking into consideration the ongoing debate centred around a Strategic Approach to International Chemicals Management (holding its second Prepcom in October) – chemical safety issues are undeniably on the international environmental agenda, and their discussion is evolving rapidly.

Unfortunately, these multilateral environmental agreements will involve an increasingly complex and intense negotiations agenda. They will be competing amongst themselves, at least at some level, for attention (government involvement, personnel dedication and capacity-building initiatives) – and, invariably, for funding. This specially concerns developing countries, and least developed countries in particular. Their need to participate fully and actively is hindered by their relative scarcity of means, both human and financial.

The Convention’s Partnership Programme is a good example of an innovative approach to resource mobilization. It has two strong points – bringing the private sector into direct involvement with the Parties in discussing guidelines and creative solutions for growing hazardous waste management; and providing for direct channelling of much-needed financial resources specifically aimed at addressing concrete environmentally sound management problems.

Direct participation
The private sector – most importantly, industries – must be engaged in the debate and in funding specific initiatives directed to concrete goals in waste management and reduction. This is particularly important in product areas where the difference between hazardous and household waste is rapidly disappearing. The recent initiative on mobile phones is most welcome. The pilot programme’s area selection could not be more relevant, and the work done so far has shown how much can be achieved with the direct participation of governments and industry focused on one specific area of waste prevention and management. Although there are points to be smoothed out – most importantly the involvement of funding by the Parties, especially for secretarial tasks, in a programme which should finance itself – the outlook is definitely positive.

The debate centred around the Convention’s scope – mainly its possible evolution into a global waste convention – must be taken seriously in view of the rapidly changing concept of household waste. But the Convention cannot evolve towards this new goal if it cannot achieve its old ones. The growing consensus is that Basel – like other chemical safety multilateral environmental agreements – must adopt new financing solutions just to meet its present objectives of addressing hazardous waste. The Partnership Programme is an inventive and positive way to address resource mobilization, while stimulating the private sector’s greater involvement – both financial and technical – with the Convention’s work. With lack of adequate funding – and increasing competition from the other chemical conventions – the Basel Convention will have to rely increasingly on alternative funding mechanisms if it is to keep up with the challenges ahead, including the pressing discussion on global waste

Everton Vieira Vargas is Director of the Department of the Environment and Special Issues of the Brazilian Ministry of Foreign Relations.

The author thanks Raphael Azeredo for his valuable contribution in the preparation of this text. The views expressed in this article reflect solely the author’s opinion.


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

Secretariat of the Basel Convention: