Much to discuss,
much to do

Sachiko Kuwabara-Yamamoto describes the work of the Basel Convention and the challenges ahead

Since the Basel Convention came into force in 1992, an effective international regime has been established to regulate transboundary movements of hazardous and other wastes. It is operating successfully worldwide with the support of 163 Parties. We are proud of our achievements and of the significant progress made recently with launching a ten-year Strategic Plan for the Implementation of the Basel Convention and a compliance mechanism, the legal establishment of our network of Basel Convention Regional Centres, and the continued development of our unique Partnership Programme.

The time has now come for us to go further. Our Parties report generating over 100 million tonnes of hazardous waste a year. The actual global total is probably significantly above this figure – and the generation is growing steadily. Global population growth, industrialization and rising consumption are driving increasing levels of waste. The mass consumption of electronics and other equipment – together with their rapid obsolescence – is generating huge amounts of waste containing hazardous materials when such equipment reaches the end of its useful life, and its export on a massive scale to developing countries not equipped to receive it. More and more hazardous wastes are being found intermingled with municipal and household ones. It will take decades to reverse this upward trend from which human health and the environment can only suffer.

Pursuing sustainable development will require decoupling waste generation from economic growth. An international regime regulating the transboundary movement of hazardous and other wastes is essential but not enough to tackle this issue.

Key issues
Against this backdrop, the Note from the President of the Expanded Bureau of COP6 in consultation with the Expanded Bureau identified key issues, some of which are mentioned below.

A central goal of the Basel Convention is the ‘environmentally sound management’ of hazardous wastes; this aims to protect human health and the environment, particularly by minimizing hazardous waste production whenever possible. Environmentally sound management means addressing the issue through an ‘integrated life-cycle approach’, involving waste prevention and strong controls from the generation of a hazardous waste to its storage, transport, treatment, recycling, recovery and final disposal.

A framework for life-cycle management of hazardous and other wastes has been set by the 1999 Basel Ministerial Declaration on Environmentally Sound Management adopted at the tenth anniversary of the Convention, as the focus of action in the second decade of operation. The ensuing Strategic Plan for the Implementation of the Basel Convention, adopted at COP6, identified priority activities for preventing, minimizing, recycling, recovering and disposing of hazardous and other wastes, and for promoting and using cleaner technologies. From a practical point of view, this means that it is necessary and appropriate to manage hazardous wastes that have been generated domestically in a similar way to imported ones.

The key challenges are to manage wastes in a way that protects human health and the environment, through measures applying to the entire waste cycle – from reducing the production of wastes, to promoting recovery, recycling and reuse, and to ensuring that their disposal is carried out using environmentally sound methods and technologies.

Recognizing that the sound implementation of the Basel Convention requires us to move away from looking at the transboundary movements of hazardous wastes in isolation from broader waste issues takes us to partnerships. The theme of the Conference is ‘Partnership for meeting the global waste challenge’.

As we set out in our Strategic Plan, solving the hazardous waste problem requires ‘cooperation and partnership at all levels, within and between countries, public authorities, international organizations, the industry sector, non-governmental organizations and academic institutions’. North-South and South-South partnerships, and cross-sectoral public-private partnerships all have their immense value. Partnerships do and will make a major contribution to strengthening the implementation of the Convention coupled with the promotion of the life-cycle approach and the environmentally sound management of hazardous wastes.

Different partnerships
COP7 will help define the role of the Basel Convention in building partnerships for its effective implementation. They are varied and wide ranging. For example, when they are related to the life-cycle approach to chemical and hazardous waste management, they can entail the sustained collaboration of the Basel Convention with the Stockholm Convention and the Global Environment Facility to tackle persistent organic pollutant wastes. Another example is pursuing synergies with the Rotterdam and Stockholm Conventions and engaging with the Strategic Approach to International Chemicals Management (SAICM) process, launched by the UNEP Governing Council. Various initiatives have already been undertaken to ensure that the three Conventions support each other at the global, regional and national levels.
The key challenges are to manage wastes in a way that protects human health and the environment, through measures applying to the entire waste cycle
Partnerships can be envisaged in the area of integrated waste management, to take another example, via the network of Basel Convention Regional Centres – as programmes with local governments to promote the environmentally sound management of hazardous wastes as part of municipal waste. This would alleviate health risks from hazardous wastes (from hospitals, laboratories or medium-sized enterprises, for example) that have been mixed with municipal wastes.

Further promoting the regional approach, partnerships are sought for developing regional capacity for the environmentally sound recycling, recovery or disposal of hazardous wastes: this is exemplified by the ongoing Basel Convention initiative for the environmentally sound recovery of used lead-acid batteries in the Caribbean and Central America. This approach enables economies of scale, makes transparent the export and import of the specific wastes stream, and facilitates enforcement.

Yet another example is represented by partnerships with the private sector – such as our mobile phone and e-waste initiatives – whereby manufacturers gather best practices in product life-cycle management for the benefit of the international community at large, especially developing countries.

Essential base
Partnerships with a wide range of potential donors are essential to ensure an adequate technical and financial resource base to support Parties in implementing the Basel Convention. The Convention is an under-resourced instrument in this challenge. Partnership initiatives reflecting real synergies will provide more effective and efficient mobilization of resources. Hence, a comprehensive resource mobilization strategy – Mobilizing Resources for a Cleaner Future – better to articulate the potential of the Basel Convention, has been formulated and will be discussed at the COP.

There is much to discuss and much to do. We hope for lively discussions at the high-level segment of this year’s Conference, establishing an interactive forum with proactive interventions from Parties, other stakeholders, prominent experts and special guests

Sachiko Kuwabara-Yamamoto is Executive Secretary of the Basel Convention.

PHOTOGRAPH: Erico Wallfisch/UNEP/Topham

Welcome to the Meeting

Welcome to the Seventh Meeting of the Conference of the Parties (COP) to the Basel Convention. The COP takes place every other year and is the governing body of the Basel Convention, composed of all governments and organizations that have ratified or acceded to the Basel Convention (currently 163 Parties). Decisions are taken at every COP, for the next biennium and beyond, on strategic and financial planning, implementation and procedural matters, technical support, regional outreach and capacity building, and cross-sectoral partnerships, among other issues.

On behalf of the Secretariat of the Basel Convention and its staff, I wish you a pleasant and most fruitful time with us in Geneva and look forward to concrete and proactive outcomes.

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: