2019 MARKED THE XXX ANNIVERSARY OF THE BASEL CONVENTION

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Basel Convention

By Dr. Pedro J. Villegas

Friday, May 3, 2019

“Water and air, the two essential fluids on which all life depends, have become global garbage cans.”  ―Jacques Yves Cousteau―

The Basel Convention on the Control of Transboundary Movements of Hazardous Wastes and their Disposal, usually known as the Basel Convention, is an International Treaty that was designed to reduce the movements of hazardous wastes between nations, and specifically to prevent transfer of hazardous waste from developed to less developed countries (LDCs). It was adopted by the Conference of Plenipotentiaries in Basel, Switzerland, in response to a public outcry following the discovery, in the 1980’s, in Africa and other parts of the developing world of deposits of toxic wastes imported from abroad.

The overarching objective of the Basel Convention is to protect human health and the environment against the adverse effects of hazardous wastes. Its scope of application covers a wide range of wastes defined as “hazardous wastes” based on their origin and/or composition and their characteristics, as well as two types of wastes defined as “other wastes”: household wastes and incinerators ashes.

Basel Convention does not, however, address the movement of radioactive wastes. The Convention is also intended to minimize the amount and toxicity of wastes generated, to ensure their environmentally sound management as closely as possible to the source of generation, and to assist LDCs in environmentally sound management of the hazardous chemicals and other wastes they generate.

The Convention was opened for signature on March 22, 1989, and entered into force on May 5, 1992. As of May 2019, 186 Countries and the European Union are parties to the Convention. Haiti and the United States have signed the Convention but not ratified it.

The Convention also provides for the establishment of regional or sub-regional centers for training and technology transfers regarding the management of hazardous chemicals and other wastes and the minimization of their generation to cater to the specific needs of different regions and subregions. Fourteen such centers have been established. They carry out training and capacity building activities in the regions. Belize became a party to the Basel Convention on May 23, 1997 and has ratified this convention.

From April 29 to May 10 this year, in Geneva, the Conferences of the Parties to the Basel, Rotterdam and Stockholm Conventions will meet back-to-back for the fourth time. These “Triple COPs” meet every two years to set the agenda and take decisions with the aim to protect human health and the environment from the harmful effects of chemicals and waste.

The theme of this Triple COP is “Clean Planet, Healthy People: Sound Management of Chemicals and Waste”. Decisions taken will help make the world less polluted by improving waste management and by reducing or eliminating usually invisible toxins that can cause cancer, birth defects, immune and reproductive system dysfunction and other adverse effects on health and environment. Humans, animals and ecosystems will be healthier as a result.

A major source of pollution is marine litter and microplastics which accumulate in our oceans, forming large floating islands of plastic wastes that wash up on beaches and coral reefs spoiling pristine environments, and which are consumed by fish and end up on our dinner tables. Under the Basel Convention, Parties are expected to take a wide-ranging decision to minimize plastic wastes and better control their transboundary movement.

The Basel Convention COP will also promote environmentally sound management of wastes through the development of technical guidelines on waste from electronics, persistent organic pollutants, lead acid batteries, mercury, and also certain hazardous wastes treatment methods. Work continues on tools for the Environmentally Sound Management of Chemicals (ESM) Toolkit including guidance on recycling and recovery and on how to address ESM in the informal sector. Efforts to provide further legal clarity involves ongoing review of the annexes to the thirty-year old Basel Convention with a view to making proposals for amendment to better address today’s reality. Exploring ways to address the emerging issue of waste containing nanomaterials, the COP will consider options for further work that may be carried out under the Basel Convention.

On the other hand, the Rotterdam and Stockholm COPs will again consider the possible adoption of a mechanism for dealing with compliance, while all three COPs will consider jointly mainstreaming gender, illegal traffic, budgets and other shared issues.

Summarizing the provisions of Basel Convention center around the following principal aims:

  • The reduction of hazardous waste generation and the promotion of environmentally sound management of hazardous wastes, wherever the place of disposal;
  • The restriction of transboundary movements of hazardous wastes except where it is perceived to be in accordance with the principles of environmentally sound management; and
  • A regulatory system applying to cases where transboundary movements are permissible.

 You can reach your own conclusions.

God bless Belize!

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