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This page was updated on: 09/12/05
A Brief Introduction to THE BASEL convention

The Basel Convention on the Control of Transboundary Movements of Hazardous Wastes and their Disposal was adopted in 1989 and entered into force on 5 May 1992. It was created to address increasing concerns over the management, disposal and transboundary movements of hazardous wastes. The main principles of the Convention are that: transboundary movements of hazardous wastes should be reduced to a minimum consistent with their environmentally sound management; hazardous wastes should be treated and disposed of as close as possible to their source of generation; and hazardous waste generation should be reduced and minimized at source. The Basel Convention covers hazardous wastes that are explosive, flammable, poisonous, infectious, corrosive, toxic, or ecotoxic. The categories of wastes and the hazardous characteristics are set out in Annexes I to III of the Convention. Lists of specific wastes characterized as hazardous or non-hazardous are in Annexes VIII and IX.

 

As of September 2005, 165 states and the European Community were Parties to the Convention. The total number of ratifications with the 1995 Ban Amendment stands at 58. For updated information on signatories see http://www.basel.int/ratif/frsetmain.php?refer=convention.htm

 

A HISTORY OF THE BASEL NEGOTIATIONS

 

This brief review of the Basel negotiations outlines the development that have been taking place since the first Conference of the Parties, held in Uruguay in December 1992. Over the last decade, the focus of negotiations has been on setting up a framework for controlling the movement of hazardous wastes across international frontiers, developing the criteria for “environmentally sound management” and establishing a Control System based on prior written notification.

 

COP-1: At the first Conference of the Parties, held in Piriapolis, Uruguay, from 3-4 December 1992, industrialized countries were requested to prohibit the transboundary movements of hazardous wastes for disposal to developing countries. COP-1 also noted that transboundary movements of wastes destined for recovery and recycling take place in accordance with the requirement that the waste be handled in an environmentally sound manner (Decision I/22). As Decision I/22 was not legally binding, a “pro-ban coalition,” consisting of developing countries, Greenpeace and the Nordic States, urged delegates to adopt a binding amendment to the Convention. The issue of hazardous wastes destined for recycling and recovery was forwarded to the Technical Working Group (TWG) for further study.

 

COP-2: During the second Conference of the Parties, held in Geneva from 21-25 March 1994, Parties agreed on an immediate ban on the export of hazardous wastes intended for final disposal from OECD to non-OECD countries. Parties also agreed to ban, by 31 December 1997, the export of wastes intended for recovery and recycling (Decision II/12). The issue of whether or not the ban was legally binding was unclear, since Decision II/12 was not incorporated into the text of the Convention itself.

 

COP-3: At the third Conference of the Parties, held in Geneva from 18-22 September 1995, the ban was adopted as an amendment to the Convention (Decision III/1). This amendment does not use the OECD/non-OECD membership distinction, but bans the export of hazardous wastes for final disposal and recycling from Annex VII countries (EU, OECD, Liechtenstein) to non-Annex VII countries. It thus is not in itself a barrier for non-OECD countries to retain the option of receiving OECD hazardous wastes for recycling purposes by joining Annex VII. This amendment will enter into force following its 62nd ratification. COP-3 further mandated the TWG to continue its work on the characterization of “hazardous wastes” and the development of lists of wastes that are hazardous (Decision III/12).

 

COP-4: Two of the major decisions adopted at the fourth Conference of the Parties, held in Kuching, Malaysia, from 23-27 February 1998, related to the ban amendment. COP-4 considered proposals by countries, including Slovenia, Israel and Monaco, to join Annex VII and decided that the composition of this Annex would remain unchanged until the ban amendment enters into force (Decision IV/8). In this decision, COP-4 also requests the Secretariat to undertake a study of the issues related to Annex VII. On the clarification of which wastes should be included under the ban, COP-4 considered the proposal put forward by the TWG on List A, identifying wastes characterized as hazardous, and List B, identifying non-hazardous wastes. COP-4 decided to incorporate these lists as Annex VIII and Annex IX, respectively.

 

The Technical Working Group met for its 13th session from 27-29 April 1998 in Geneva, its 14th session from 2-5 November 1998 in Pretoria, and its 15th session from 11-14 April 1999 in Geneva. Delegates considered and agreed on: a procedure for reviewing or adjusting the lists of wastes contained in Annexes VIII and IX; and draft technical guidelines on physico-chemical treatment and on the identification and management of used tires. The TWG also advanced its work on, inter alia: guidelines on the management of biomedical and health care wastes and on the identification and management of plastic wastes; a course of action for the review of wastes placed in list C (working list of wastes awaiting classification); and development of scoping papers on the hazard characterization of wastes.

 

The Second Joint Meeting of the Technical Working Group and Consultative Subgroup of Legal and Technical Experts (TWG/Consultative Sub-group) met from 14-16 April 1999 in Geneva. Delegates considered the implementation of decisions adopted at COP-4. On Annex VII (EU, OECD and Liechtenstein), delegates agreed on the terms of reference for Part II of the study on issues related to this Annex. The purpose of the Part II analysis is to explore health, environmental, social, economic and other issues related to Annex VII that are considered important by the COP and to assist Parties in ratifying the ban amendment. In their consideration of the draft guidance elements for bilateral, multilateral or regional agreements and arrangements, delegates debated the issue of the relationship of these agreements and arrangements with Decision III/1 (ban amendment). Concerning the development of procedures to assist Parties in preventing, identifying and managing illegal traffic, delegates decided that more work was needed on the draft guidance elements elaborated at their previous meeting (6-7 November 1998 in Pretoria) and that COP-5 should therefore confirm that this item remains on its agenda.

 

Delegates also considered the proposal for the creation of a monitoring and compliance regime for the Convention, as well as the document titled �Monitoring the Implementation of and Compliance with the Obligations set out by the Basel Convention,� prepared by an informal group of the Consultative Sub-group. Delegates agreed to leave aside the discussion on the nature of such a mechanism and that further work was needed on the terms of reference for the regime. On the analysis of Article 20 (dispute settlement), delegates disagreed on whether the article continues to meet the needs of Parties.

 

They agreed to keep consideration of this item on the agenda and invited the Secretariat to prepare a working document synthesizing responses from Parties to a questionnaire on Article 20 for the next meeting of the TWG/Consultative Sub-group. On the issue of an emergency fund, delegates expressed diverging views on the need for its establishment and considered a Caribbean proposal that suggests the issue be addressed within the development of a framework of an overall emergency response mechanism. They also considered the issue of the dismantling of ships. In this regard, they agreed to invite COP-5 to mandate the TWG to develop management guidelines in collaboration with the International Maritime Organization, and to mandate the TWG/Consultative Sub-group to discuss the related legal aspects under the Convention.

 

The Fourth Open-Ended Ad Hoc Committee for the Implementation of the Basel Convention (the Committee) met from 21-24 June 1999 in Geneva. Representatives from 82 Parties, two non-Party States, three intergovernmental organizations and three NGOs attended the meeting. Parties met to review the COP-5 agenda as well as the draft decisions to be forwarded to COP-5 for adoption. The Committee considered and adopted 26 decisions. A number of these are based on the outcome of the meetings of the TWG and of the second Joint Meeting of the TWG/Consultative Sub-Group. The other decisions cover, inter alia, the implementation of the ban amendment, international cooperation, the role of the regional and sub-regional centres for training and technology transfer, and capacity-building activities. The Committee also invited the Secretariat to prepare, for consideration by COP-5, a list of all the legal tasks of relevance to the work of the subsidiary bodies, as well as draft decisions on the task and mandate of each subsidiary body. The Committee considered a draft declaration on the challenges of the Convention for the next decade and the associated decision that would constitute the agenda on the environmentally sound management of wastes for this period. On the development of the Protocol, the Committee noted that the 10th session of the Ad Hoc Working Group was scheduled to meet before COP-5 and requested that the Secretariat prepare a draft decision for consideration by COP-5. Finally, on the budget for 2001-2002, discussions focused on the cost of participation of developing country experts. Two alternative budget proposals were forwarded to COP-5.

 

The 10th session of the Ad Hoc Working Group met from 30 August-3 September 1999 in Geneva. The Group considered the draft text resulting from its previous sessions. It agreed on Protocol Article 13, except its Annex, concerning financial limits for liability under Convention Articles 4 (general obligations) and 5 (competent authorities and focal point). The Group also agreed on a text addressing the relationship between the Protocol and the law of the competent court under domestic law, and to delete Protocol Article 10 (basis of claims). Delegates also considered, yet could not agree upon, articles on: the scope of application; strict liability; insurance and other financial guarantees; financial mechanism; and the Annex to Protocol Article 13 which specifies the financial limits for liability under Convention Article 4.

 

COP-5: The Fifth Conference of the Parties (COP-5) to the Basel Convention on the Control of Transboundary Movements of Hazardous Wastes and their Disposal, met in Basel, Switzerland, from 6-10 December 1999. With over 450 participants in attendance and 115 Parties represented, delegates celebrated the 10th anniversary of the adoption of the Convention. They also adopted the long-awaited Protocol on Liability and Compensation for damage resulting from transboundary movements of hazardous wastes and their disposal and a ministerial declaration on their vision for promoting the environmentally sound management of hazardous wastes over the next 10 years, along with a decision setting the next decade�s agenda.

 

In September 2002, a revised Draft Strategic Plan for the Implementation of the Basel Convention (2000-2010) was released, identifying and describing those activities that are considered achievable by Parties in partnership with all concerned and with interested stakeholders within the agreed ten-year timeframe. The draft Strategic Plan takes into account existing regional plans, programmes or strategies, the decisions of the Conference of the Parties and its subsidiary bodies, ongoing project activities and process of international environmental governance and sustainable development. The Draft Strategic Plan is composed of a strategic text and Action Table comprised of short (2003-2004) and mid-to-long term activities (2005-2010).

 

COP-6: The sixth meeting of the Conference of the Parties (COP-6) to the Basel Convention on the Control of Transboundary Movements of Hazardous Wastes and their Disposal was held from 9-14 December 2002, in Geneva, Switzerland. The meeting was attended by 400 officials representing more than 90 Parties, seven observer States, four UN bodies and agencies, and over 30 intergovernmental, non-governmental and other organizations. COP-6 opened with a preparatory segment, from 9-11 December, followed by a high-level segment for ministers and heads of delegations, which took place from 12-14 December.

 

The COP considered and adopted decisions on a range of issues relating to implementation of the Convention, amendment of the Convention and its annexes, and institutional, financial and procedural arrangements. Many of these decisions, including technical guidelines on the environmentally sound management of biomedical and healthcare wastes, plastic wastes, waste lead-acid batteries, and the dismantling of ships, had been examined and approved by the Subsidiary Bodies during the intersessional period. After lengthy negotiations, COP-6 also set the budget for 2003-2005, agreed on a compliance mechanism for the Convention, adopted a Strategic Plan, and finalized the Framework Agreement on the legal establishment of the Regional Centers for Training and Technology Transfer.

 

With COP-6 ending many hours later than scheduled, most delegates departed from COP-6 fatigued but satisfied at completing their work on these important tasks. Nevertheless, broader goals such as hazardous waste minimization and entry into force of the Ban Amendment are certain to remain on the agenda for some time to come.

COP-7: The seventh meeting of the Conference of the Parties (COP-7) to the Basel Convention on the Control of Transboundary Movements of Hazardous Wastes and their Disposal was held from 25-29 October 2004, in Geneva, Switzerland. COP-7 opened with a preparatory segment, from 25-27 October, followed by a high-level segment for ministers and heads of delegations, which took place from 28-29 October. Participants in the high-level segment engaged in an interactive discussion on partnerships for meeting the global waste challenge � the theme of COP-7. A key decision at COP-7 was to apply the terms of the Basel Convention to ships to be dismantled. COP-7 also adopted decisions on definitions of hazardous wastes, hazardous waste characteristics, a number of technical guidelines, guidance elements for bilateral, multilateral or regional agreements, and follow-up to the World Summit on Sustainable Development (WSSD).