Environmentally Sound Management and the Basel Ban Amendment
Prepared by the Basel Action Network (BAN)
for the Fifth Conference of the Parties to the Basel Convention
6-10 December 1999
The first decade of the Basel Convention was marked by the accomplishment of the Basel Ban Amendment and an elaboration of the hazardous waste definitions to enhance implementation of the Convention and the Ban. As the Basel Convention moves into its second decade, there is now much discussion, and indeed a "next decade declaration" about making "environmentally sound management" (ESM) the centerpiece of the Convention. We welcome both of these goals for we see them as one.
Unfortunately however, some have tried to characterize the Basel Ban and the achievement of ESM as fundamentally different. For example in a recent (October 1999) OECD workshop held in Cancun, Mexico on ESM of wastes destined for recycling operations, NGOs were told by the organizers that it was inappropriate to discuss the Basel Ban, or waste prevention because the workshop was about ESM. This idea that ESM does not include concepts of waste prevention and that the Basel Ban is not a clear implementation of such preventative steps within ESM is, in our view a very dangerous and mistaken one. Also dangerous, if we are serious about ESM, is any notion of putting the Basel Ban Amendment "behind us." For ESM will not be achieved until and unless the Basel Ban Amendment enters into force.
While the Basel Ban remains contentious among some industrial groups which do not wish to work toward hazardous waste minimization, it remains the world's most significant achievement to date for both human rights and ESM -- preventing both a poisoning of North-South relations as well as preventing the actual poisoning of humans and the environment from such wastes. But the entire effort of the first decade and the efforts for ESM in the second will all be for nothing if the strict, no-exceptions ban does not enter into force.
The first part of this paper will demonstrate that the Basel Ban is a major step in the implementation of ESM. We make the case that while it is well known that ESM has always been the basis for adopting the Basel Ban, too often this basis has been misrepresented. Ban opponents, in a self-serving way continue to characterize ESM as being simply a matter of downstream responsibility of potential waste recipient countries. We find this interpretation one-sided, dangerous and in contradiction to the objectives of the Basel Convention. Rather we submit that ESM is primarily the upstream responsibility of the waste generating state, in its fulfillment of the basic obligations of the Convention.
The second part of this paper consists of a point-by-point critique of the argumentation and complaints submitted to the Secretariat by the countries which continue to oppose the ban. In that section we explain why we believe these arguments are erroneous and irresponsible.
We look forward to a second decade of the Basel Convention where all Parties ratify the Basel Ban, agree to become self-sufficient in waste management through waste minimization, and proceed apace in capacity building to ensure maximizing hazardous waste minimization within individual countries.
Part One: The Rationale for The Basel Ban Amendment (Decision III/1)
1.1 The Basis of the Ban
Decision III/1 is based on the following stated justification: "Recognizing that transboundary movements of hazardous wastes, especially to developing countries, have a high risk of not constituting an environmentally sound management of hazardous wastes as required by this Convention."
On the basis of the statement above, the Parties took the decision to ban exports from Annex VII countries (OECD countries, EU countries and Liechtenstein) to non-Annex VII countries. There are three elements to the text found in III/1 that are of vital importance:
First, it is stated that it is the "transboundary movement" (or trade) in hazardous waste which is seen as having the "high risk" (not just disposal) with respect to ESM. "Transboundary movement" implies obligations and characteristics of all "states concerned," and in particular those of the exporting state initiating the transboundary movement, and certainly, not just those of the importing, or disposing state.
Second, such trade is seen as having a high risk of being in conflict with the Convention and thus the consequent action taken to remedy this problem was to ban the export from Annex VII countries to non-Annex VII countries. The fact that the Parties did not see fit to likewise ban the export of hazardous wastes from non-Annex VII countries to non-Annex VII countries illustrates that the concern being addressed for the most part had to do with concerns about more than just the technical or other capacity of non-Annex VII countries to manage hazardous wastes in an environmentally sound manner.
Rather it had to do with something inherently harmful to ESM when an Annex VII country exports its waste to a non-Annex VII country. It had to do with responsibilities, obligations and characteristics of Annex VII countries vis a vis non-Annex VII countries, much more than it had to do with those of non-Annex VII countries alone.
Finally, it is imperative to realize that the primary problem identified was the "high risk" of such Annex VII to non-Annex VII trade not constituting ESM. Environmentally Sound Management is defined in the Convention as:
"taking all practicable steps to ensure that hazardous wastes or other wastes are managed in a manner which will protect human health and the environment against the adverse effects which may result from such wastes."
1.2 Environmentally Sound Management -- Taking all Practicable Steps
Surely, at a minimum, "taking all practicable steps" on the part of the Annex VII "state of export" to which the ban is meant to apply, must include adhering to the general obligations of the Convention found in Article 4. If these steps were not practicable and essential would they have been considered as obligations for all of the Parties? And, as we shall see, in the case of Annex VII exporting countries the case is even more clear and compelling. These obligations include:
The obligation to reduce waste generation:
"Each Party shall take the appropriate measures to ensure that the generation of hazardous wastes and other wastes within it is reduced to a minimum, taking into account social, technological and economic aspects" (Article 4, paragraph 2, (a))
It is clear and irrefutable that export of hazardous wastes from higher cost waste disposal facilities to lower cost facilities, which is almost always the case in the Annex VII to non-Annex VII waste trade subject of the ban, acts as a powerful disincentive to cost internalization and the realization of waste reduction at the source. This fact was highlighted in a recent OECD study on the Basel Convention:
"By raising the costs of disposing of wastes, firms face an incentive to produce less wastes, or produce wastes that are less hazardous to handle, through cleaner production processes for example. The same logic can be extended to restrictions on transfrontier waste movements: restricting access to one more of the alternative disposal options increases the pressure for waste generation in industrialized countries to be minimized at its source."1
Thus, waste reduction on the part of Annex VII countries, a fundamental obligation and indeed a "practicable step" for ESM, is much less likely to occur without the Basel Ban. Further, we would argue that it is the Annex VII countries, by virtue of their economic stature and high levels of waste generation that have the greatest responsibility for moving rapidly on the path of hazardous waste reductions.
The obligation for self-sufficiency in waste management:
"Each Party shall take the appropriate measures to ensure the availability of adequate disposal facilities, for the environmentally sound management of hazardous wastes, that shall be located, to the extent possible, within it, whatever the place of their disposal." (Article 4, paragraph 2, (b)).
This is a practicable step that all countries are obligated to achieve. While the phrase "to the extent possible" is a particularly strong one, and does not specify exceptions based on economics, it is clear that the Annex VII countries will be best placed to fulfil this obligation by virtue of their relative wealth and longer experience with toxic wastes. When an Annex VII country exports hazardous wastes for disposal (including recycling) to a non-Annex VII country they are almost assuredly in violation of this obligation as they have not taken this obvious and required "practicable step" of dealing with wastes at source -- at home. It is highly unlikely that an "adequate" technology exists in a non-Annex VII country that cannot also exist in the Annex VII country of export, or within its political/economic integration organization (ie. the European Union).
The obligation for reducing transboundary movements:
"Each Party shall take the appropriate measures to ensure that the transboundary movement of hazardous wastes and other wastes is reduced to a minimum consistent with the environmentally sound and efficient management of such wastes, and is conducted in a manner which will protect human health and the environment against the adverse effects which may result from that movement." (Article 4, paragraph 2, (d))
When an Annex VII country exports its hazardous waste to a non-Annex VII country, they have indeed increased the transboundary movements of hazardous waste by each such movement. They have thus failed to take the practicable step of reducing such movements to a minimum. While some have argued that the Basel Ban might reduce some transboundary movements while prompting an increase in others, there is no evidence to back up any claim that the ban will result in a net increase in transboundary movements -- indeed there is a mountain of common sense that would refute it. First, the obligation to minimize transboundary movements is incumbent on all parties.
Second, almost all of the hazardous waste trade witnessed prior to the widespread adoption of national, regional bans as well as the Basel Ban was either from OECD to OECD or from OECD to non-OECD countries. Eliminating the lions share of the obvious, economically motivated trade is almost assuredly going to reduce the overall potential or actual hazardous waste trade. This is particularly the case when a country must fulfill the obligation to become self-sufficient in hazardous waste management as required in Article 4, paragraph 2 (b), rather than simply redirect waste trade. In any case, individual states are still obliged under the Convention to reduce their individual transboundary movements to a minimum.
1.3 Annex VII Country Responsibility is Essential
Even before ban detractors can approach the question of whether or not the actual disposal of hazardous waste in the importing non-Annex VII country might be ESM or not -- which is the only issue they currently choose to discuss, they are obliged first to satisfy the three fundamental obligations and "practicable steps" noted above. These are steps that Annex VII countries must take and which in almost every case Annex VII countries will not be taking if they are engaged in Annex VII to non-Annex VII waste trade.
In this light the basis for the Basel Ban becomes very clear. Before the question even arises about various disposal technologies employed, standards, or conditions in the non-Annex VII importing country, the obligations upon the Annex VII exporting countries make it obvious why "transboundary movements of hazardous wastes, especially to developing countries, have a high risk of not constituting environmentally sound management."
The countries of the United States, Canada, Australia, and New Zealand, overlook these fundamental requirements of the Convention which most certainly must be considered as "practicable steps" to ESM. These countries seek to ignore their own obligations and responsibility as envisaged in the Convention and the ban and instead try to focus our attention on the capabilities of non-Annex VII importing countries.
Such a move is self-serving in that it makes it appear that the waste crisis is the fault of non-Annex VII countries for their failure to possess "end-of-pipe" treatment and recycling technologies to deal with wastes not of their making, rather than the fault of those generating the waste in the first place who fail to reduce it at source through the use of clean production methods as the Convention envisages.
1.4 Technical, and other Capacity of non-Annex VII Countries
As we have seen, with respect to the rationale for the Basel Ban, ESM has far more to do with the responsibilities of exporting states to uphold fundamental principles of waste management, than it has to do with the inability of potentially importing countries to manage hazardous wastes. For even if all countries of the world had identical technologies, the principles of self-sufficiency, waste prevention at source, and minimizing transboundary movements of hazardous waste remain ever valid and essential principles for reducing risk and pollution. The ban simply prescribes a remedy for those waste flows most likely to flow for economic reasons in abuse of the obligations and principles outlined above.
While it is almost certain that technical and infra-structural capacity of non-Annex VII countries is less likely to be as advanced as in Annex VII countries and for that additional reason the export of such wastes to non-Annex VII countries cannot be seen as having taken "all practicable steps to ensure that hazardous wastes or other wastes are managed in a manner which will protect human health and the environment against the adverse effects which may result from such wastes," this fact is really secondary to the obligations placed upon exporting countries which must be viewed as requisite "practicable steps."
1.5 Hazardous Waste Recycling -- A Closer Look
Even if we were to accept the false premise that it is environmentally sound to even begin an export of hazardous waste from Annex VII to non-Annex VII countries for purposes of recycling rather than promoting upstream prevention methods as the most important aspects of ESM, we run into an ugly brick wall of reality with respect to hazardous waste recycling technologies. An examination of such technologies around the world reveal them to be some of the dirtiest, most polluting enterprises in the history of industrialization. This fact has been somewhat ignored by virtue of the positive connotations of the word "Recycling". But the pretty mask provided by this word falls quickly upon real examination. Even overlooking the numerous incidents of fraudulent or "sham" recycling that have been documented to date, we find that hazardous waste recycling is simply dumping by another name, often causing equal or worse damage to the populace and environment than final disposal. Two quick facts illustrate that even in OECD countries such as the United States, hazardous waste recycling is extremely dangerous and has a continuing history of very serious and costly contamination:
- Of the 1194 toxic waste sites listed in the US Superfund legislation's National Priority List of worst toxic sites in the USA as of 29 September 1998, 133 of these, or over 11%, were formerly or currently hazardous waste recycling facilities.2
- The Inventory of Sources of Dioxin in the United States, External Review Draft cites secondary smelting of ferrous and non-ferrous metals and waste-to-energy incineration operations as a major source of dioxin and furans.3
In non-OECD countries of course the risk is exacerbated to extremes by the lack of resources and infrastructure to contain the contamination known to occur at such sites. Greenpeace and BAN have yet to document a single hazardous waste recycling facility in a non-OECD country that does not cause serious pollution.
Indeed, exports for recycling always involve some degree of final disposal. And yet there is no dispute among any of the Parties of the Basel Convention that exports of hazardous waste for final disposal to non-OECD countries are to be eliminated. Thus it should follow that exports of hazardous waste for recycling from Annex VII to non-Annex VII countries must likewise be eliminated. According to the OECD Basel study:
"...it should be noted with regard to certain ashes and residues, e.g. filter dust ....that the recycling process for such hazardous wastes, in reality often leaves a considerable waste landfill problem, as only 10-20% can typically be extracted from this dust. The remaining 80-90 % which often continues to contain such large amounts of environmentally hazardous substances that it must be considered a hazardous waste, will in practice be placed in landfills in the importing country."
It is always more costly to attempt to clean-up pollution after it occurs than to prevent it. Yet a full costing analysis which internalizes all costs of the hazardous waste recycling trade has never been undertaken. Instead, we are just asked to take it on faith that recycling of hazardous waste is good for the economy and the environment. However, once a full cost assessment of externalized costs is undertaken and factored in economically, it will be clear that the costs from the transfer of pollution via recycling, far exceeds any benefits gained.
Finally, and most importantly, hazardous waste recycling is yet another end-of-pipe technology which serves as a disincentive for preventing hazardous waste at source such as by utilizing non-toxic inputs and clean production methods. In the case of transboundary movements covered under the Basel Ban, this pipeline begins in Annex VII countries and ends in non-Annex VII countries. Such a steep economic gradient represented by these country groups equates to very serious economic disincentives to achieving waste prevention. And waste prevention has long been recognized as not only an obligation of the Convention but is the prime objective of all concepts of ESM.
1.6 The Rationale for the OECD Distinction within the Basel Ban
There is no mystery in determining the latest method by which ban opponent countries wish to undermine and unravel the Basel Ban. Their latest tactic which holds the most promise for them is to allow for expansion of Annex VII beyond the OECD group. They know full well that once the OECD distinction is erased then the ban will also be erased. There are two compelling reasons why the decision by the Parties to distinguish OECD countries from non-OECD countries as a basis for the ban is sound and consistent with the aims of the Convention:
- The OECD group is disproportionately responsible for a global problem (hazardous waste generation) and possesses a disproportionate capability (wealth) to solve that problem at home as required by the Basel Convention (Article 4, para. 2, (a)(b)and (d)).
- The OECD, is a legally bound set of nations whose membership is not self-elective but based on economic, and infra-structural criteria. The rigidity and economic basis of OECD membership provides an enforceable safeguard against an elective regime where countries, on the basis of unenforceable criteria, can opt in or out of the ban.. An "opt-out" ban is not a ban at all.
The OECD/non-OECD divider while imperfect, does address the worst abuses of dumping for profit and at the same time serves as a self-enforcing mechanism to prevent the return to the failed elective system of "prior informed consent". If, non-OECD countries are allowed (or are pressured into) joining Annex VII , once again they will become the potential target for economically motivated waste dumping and in the process, OECD countries will be able to avoid their special responsibility to fulfil ESM obligations under the Convention.
The Basel Ban is a logical and indeed vital implementation of the Basel Convention and in particular its requirement for ESM. ESM is most effectively addressed "upstream" at the source of the waste (potentially exporting countries) and not "downstream" at (potentially importing and disposing countries). The Basel Ban, by placing an onus on potentially exporting countries to manage their own wastes, promotes the fundamental priority of ESM -- prevention. Without the Basel Ban, ESM can be avoided by externalizing environmental costs to weaker economies and to persons without the ability to seek redress from waste generators.
Thus, until all countries begin to achieve self-sufficiency in hazardous waste management, it is dangerous and misguided to de-link ESM and the Basel Ban. In the current climate of trade liberalization even for wastes, it is vital to maintain the Basel Ban to avoid the great ESM "escape" that economically motivated waste trade represents.
It is expected that ban opponent countries will continue their divisive and destructive efforts to sabotage the Basel Ban while maintaining that they support ESM. Such a position must be seen as the worst form of hypocrisy. The most likely method for doing this will be to continue to only view ESM in terms of downstream responsibilities of potentially importing countries and advocate accession to Annex VII for any country that possesses certain capabilities for disposing of wastes (see BAN Briefing Paper #3).
The Parties of the Basel Convention must maintain their unity in the face of greedy impulses by a handful of powerful countries. We must continue to firmly and politely reject bad-faith efforts to sabotage one of the centuries greatest achievements for justice and the environment. As much as we all have an urgent duty to create new, innovative ways to protect our children's future, it is even more vital that we protect and uphold the difficult gains we have made.
Part Two: Critique of Argumentation Provided by Canada,
Australia and New Zealand
As demonstrated in Part One above, the argumentation provided by ban opponents is based fundamentally on an inappropriately restricted definition of ESM -- one that only fixates concern over the disposal operation in potentially importing countries. Fortunately, however for the environment and human health, the Basel Convention has a much more progressive and preventative view of ESM -- one that puts the first and most important obligations on the waste generating and exporting country.
Yet this misguided view of ESM remains the theme of much of the ban opponents argumentation as articulated in the submissions to the Second meeting of the Technical Working Group in cooperation with the Sub-group of Legal and Technical Experts, of Canada, Australia and New Zealand in regards to Decision IV/8. However as other points are also raised, we examined these in turn below. As these countries share much of the same argumentation we have chosen to cite just one country's actual words in each case in order to use an exact reference.
"The Ban Amendment continues to be a divisive rather than a uniting element of the Basel Convention" -- (Canada)
Beyond the obvious handful of countries still fighting the ban, evidence of any serious divisiveness is not apparent. In fact, we can think of no environmental decision that has been decided, and turned into an amendment with such rapid, overwhelming and diverse support than the Basel Ban. The Basel Ban has been passed (Decision II/12 in 1994), turned into an amendment (Decision III/1 in 1995) and endorsed (Decision IV/7 in 1998) each time by a consensus of parties which now number 122. It has had the overwhelming support of the G-77 countries, Nordic countries and most recently all of the European Union.
The fact that Canada, Australia, the United States (a non-party) and New Zealand continue to stand alone in opposition to the Basel Ban Amendment, hardly make it a "divisive" issue, particularly as these countries have never felt strongly enough to block consensus on this matter. Certainly any decision which is designed to eliminate cheap disposal routes for industry is going to "burst some bubbles," and create some controversy, among those industries that stand to profit from a free trade in hazardous wastes. However treaties are not born to assert the status quo. Environmental treaties are designed to change the world by improving its environment. Clearly, the overwhelming majority of the Parties view the Basel Ban Amendment as doing just that.
"...the low number of ratifications which Decision III/1 has attracted." - (New Zealand)
The characterization by Canada and New Zealand of the number of ratifications of the Basel Ban Amendment as being low, and therefore an indication of some lack of support is extremely misleading. First, these countries fail to note that one of the ratifiers is the EEC. The European Economic Community is known to have competence over all EU member states with respect to international treaties dealing with trade. That is why the European Union countries have passed 259/93 and its amendments as a regulation (binding on all member states). This regulation has implemented the Basel Ban Amendment into EU law which is applicable not only to all EU states but also to their trading partners in the European Free Trade Association (EFTA) under the European Economic Agreement (EEA). The fact that the Basel Convention Secretariat has not noted each individual EU member state, nor their EFTA partners (which is comprised of Liechtenstein, Norway and Iceland), is reflective of the fact that they have no authority to do so. It is not reflective of the fact that for all intents and purposes, the EU and EFTA countries have now fully implemented the Basel Ban Amendment regardless of when each individual state takes the somewhat redundant step of ratifying individually.
Thus, in fact, there are actually 26 countries that have implemented the Basel Ban Amendment. More importantly, 18 of these are Annex VII countries! For a ban which is actually an Annex VII export ban, this is highly significant as Annex VII lists only 29 countries which are also Parties to the Basel Convention. Thus, well over half of the countries to which the ban applies have already implemented the ban.
Secondly, it has been widely understood that the debate over the scope of the treaty with respect to the definitions of hazardous wastes, which was not resolved until the end of COP-IV, delayed ratification of the ban as many countries claimed that they did not know what it was they were banning and thus early ratification might seem improper. Now that the decisions have been elaborated with widespread satisfaction by industry and the environmental community alike, ratifications have proceeded steadily. The characterization that somehow this is on a slower pace than what could be expected in other treaties and that this might represent some form of divisiveness is wishful thinking at best.
However it is important to note that, if a debate now ensues about Annex VII and its constitution, as is being advocated by ban opponents, such a debate may very well have the effect of slowing ratifications as did the previous debate on definitions. Thus those countries that profess to be concerned about the number of ratifications should ensure that Decision IV/8 is upheld and that no changes are allowed prior to entry into force of the amendment.
"In future, a non-Annex VII country may not only wish to import hazardous wastes, but may have also developed the capacity to manage them in an environmentally sound manner. Such a country is able to propose itself for addition to Annex VII." -- (Australia)
If ban opponents continue to view hazardous waste as more a commodity subject to free trade rather than as a problem to be eliminated at source, then the goals of the Convention will simply not be realized and they enter the Convention walking backwards. The distinction between Annex VII and non-Annex VII country groupings was not meant to reflect a desire to receive hazardous wastes or not. The right to ban imports was already well established within the text of the original treaty and thus such "desires" did not need the passage of the Basel Ban. Rather the Basel Parties did not want any OECD country to export to any non-OECD country. Nor, was the distinction meant to reflect the capacity to manage waste in the importing country alone. As explained in the previous section of this paper, the Convention obligates all countries to become self-sufficient, and to reduce their generation of hazardous wastes and to minimize its transboundary movement. The Annex VII group should not be seen as a waste trading bloc any more than should the non-Annex VII group. Rather, Annex VII countries were set apart as they are the countries disproportionately responsible for a global problem (hazardous waste generation) and which possess a disproportionate capability (wealth) to solve that problem at home as required of all countries by the Basel Convention (Article 4, para. 2, (a)(b)and (d)).
Indeed the "desire" to receive hazardous wastes should never be seen as a legitimate reason to join Annex VII. Just because a country wants to import hazardous waste is no reason that the rest of the Parties should facilitate that desire. And certainly that country has no special right to receive hazardous waste when that waste trade runs contrary to the aims and decisions of the Convention. Just as the Parties should not allow a country to receive hazardous wastes should that country wish to exempt itself from the obligations of prior-informed notifications and consent, licensing and permitting of facilities etc., a country cannot be allowed to violate the obligations of the Convention and its decisions simply because they want to.
"The ban amendment is likely to negatively impact the ability of developing countries to enhance their recycling capacity, thus limiting the development of this part of the internationally accepted waste management hierarchy. This can also limit or eliminate other environmentally sound, and sustainable development opportunities." -- (Canada)
The Basel Action Network finds this argumentation cynical and immoral. The Basel Ban opponents claim that unless non-Annex VII countries are willing to be the recipients of hazardous wastes from Annex VII countries, then they will not likewise be the recipients of "environmentally sound" technologies.
First, sugar-coating the bitter pill of toxic waste with the promise of technology transfer is no different than the gross offers of money for taking hazardous wastes which characterized the waste traffickers in their most unsubtle early efforts. It is environmental blackmail and is an immoral abuse of relative wealth and a serious form of exploitation. The OECD Basel study examined this perverse rationale and recorded the following rather understated observation:
"On the other hand, it might be argued that transboundary movement of hazardous waste is not itself the first best instrument for developing countries to acquire the technology, expertise and institutional infrastructure necessary for environmentally sound handling of hazardous wastes."
Second, the fact that hazardous waste recycling is "part of" a waste hierarchy hardly makes it a preferable option or one that should be promoted. Final disposal is also on the internationally accepted waste management hierarchy, and yet nobody is publicly advocating that exports of hazardous waste from Annex VII countries to non-Annex VII countries for final disposal might help developing countries learn how to build dumps. As we have noted above, hazardous waste recycling, landfilling and incineration are all very poor alternatives compared to front-of-pipe waste management that avoids hazards and waste in the first instance. These are the technologies that should be transferred to non-Annex VII countries in good faith and not as "rewards" for swallowing the effluent of affluent countries.
"The ban amendment does nothing to address the transboundary movements of hazardous wastes between developing countries and from developing to developed countries and whether they can be handled in an environmentally sound manner. The inference that these will be environmentally sound is not always accurate." - (Canada)
The ban was never intended to end all waste trade, and certainly removing or weakening the ban as has been advocated by ban opponents does nothing further to address problems associated with such South to South trade or South to North trade. Rather, the ban was designed to halt the trade from richer to poorer countries, which due to the serious economic disparities involved, led to the most egregious dumping efforts, the enormous profits, which in turn had the effect of corrupting the prior informed consent (PIC) regime. It was designed to halt the type of trade that was most obviously abusive and contradictory to the aims of the convention. This type of waste trade not only victimizes countries with lesser resources to mitigate the risks from such toxic wastes but also provides a disincentive for countries that produce the most toxic waste globally for taking responsibility for it. Halting the worst form of hazardous waste trade by enforcing responsibility on rich, industrialized, high-waste producing countries is the ban's purpose. The general obligations of the original Convention provide for controls over the less extreme economically motivated waste trade.
We must remember that according to Article 15 paragraph 7 of the Convention, "the Conference of the Parties shall undertake three years after the entry into force of this Convention and at least every six years thereafter, an evaluation of its effectiveness and, if deemed necessary, to consider adoption of a complete or partial ban of transboundary movements of hazardous wastes and other wastes in light of the latest scientific, environmental, technical and economic information. Already three years after entry into force the Parties have instituted a partial ban (only Annex VII to non-Annex VII). If in time a full ban is deemed necessary to treat all waste trade equally, this can be accomplished as envisaged.
"freezing of countries in their current Annex VII status is inconsistent with the aims of the Convention...The Convention has a process to amend the Annexes which would include Annex VII." - (Canada)
Ban opponents show bad faith in their efforts to reopen issues already decided by the Parties. At COP-IV, decision IV/8, passed by consensus, agreed to leave Annex VII unchanged until the ban amendment enters into force. After that time if the Parties so choose, they can amend the Annex or they can decide to leave it unchanged. Such a course is hardly inconsistent with the Convention. Indeed it would be highly irregular and confusing to change the text of an amendment before it enters into force and thus have every country subject to a differing list of countries. We firmly believe that there are very compelling reasons to leave Annex VII unchanged. Indeed in the current annex a mechanism exists already for country additions without amendment and that is through expansion of the OECD or EU.
"relying on OECD membership as the basis for the list of countries in Annex VII distorts the role of the OECD. OECD membership is based on a wide variety of social, political and economic factors. Using this as the key factor in adjusting Annex VII membership does not necessarily reflect the development of environmentally sound management capacity in all new members, nor does it reflect the absence of environmentally sound management capacity in non-members." -- (Canada)
Unfortunately we live in a world of disproportionate economic planes. The OECD is an organization whose embodiment demonstrates that fact. It is not an open organization open to all who might wish to join it. Rather they have distinguished themselves from the rest of the world by their own design. Members of the OECD group of states enjoy many benefits, but we would argue that with such privileges come real responsibilities. The Basel Ban asks the OECD group to take some responsibility for its higher economic standard of living, greater experience with hazardous waste, consumption and high levels wastefulness, and take active steps to fulfil the Convention obligation to prevent waste at home rather than passing it to those countries that can least afford to deal with it and who had no part in its generation.
The OECD divider is not without flaws but it does provide a legally binding set of countries whose membership is not self-elective, but is subject to a rigorous set of criteria. If the OECD professes to stand for egalitarianism then they are being hypocritical. For if OECD countries really feel that any country should have the right to become a member of Annex VII, why should they not also advocate that any country be allowed to become a member of the OECD?
"The existing amendment and structure of Annex VII as well as the lack of broad-based support for it (ie. ratifications) raises legitimate questions of how the ban relates to other areas of international law, including trade law...Not allowing Parties to change their status under the Annex also creates serious risks of trade law and other challenges from countries that have or that will develop the capacity to handle certain wastes in an environmentally sound manner." - (Canada)
This is yet another disturbing new attack on the Basel Ban being "field tested" by ban opponents. In response it first must be said that it is a perverse form of thinking that allows one to consider hazardous waste more as a tradable "good" than as a tremendous environmental problem that needs to be eliminated. But even if this "everything-is-the-market" mentality were acceptable, the entire Basel Convention and not just the Basel Ban can be subject to a WTO challenge. The entire Convention is designed to install trade barriers as the most effective way to better the environment. These trade barriers are designed to discriminate against non-Parties and countries which do not practice environmentally sound management, for example. Furthermore the Convention upholds the sovereign right of countries to unilaterally ban the import of hazardous wastes. Unilateralism is also considered illegal under the WTO.
Further, the notion that multilateral treaties such as the Basel Convention are beholden to or subservient to another multilateral treaty -- the WTO -- is no more acceptable than if the WTO were beholden to and subservient to the Basel Convention. In short the WTO has no legal right to tell the Basel Convention what to do. And certainly they cannot advocate that member states break international law by avoiding their Basel obligations.
Advocating the undermining of environmental treaties, and national environmental laws by invoking radical, inflexible "free trade" dictates will only serve to weaken the cause of trade as the public will increasingly see it as a menace to their right to a healthy environment and a potent threat to democracy rather than a boon to their pocketbooks.
"Canada and others have been accused of seeking to open the full scope of the ban amendment so that OECD countries can indiscriminately dump all their hazardous wastes on developing countries. This is quite simply false....Canada as a major recycling country, has no strategic reason to try to shift these activities to other countries given their economic value added to Canada." - (Canada)
Canada, the United States, Australia, and New Zealand consistently act insulted by the suggestion that they might be advocating a position for dumping on non-OECD countries. Yet it is hard to see it any other way. Certainly Canadian, American, New Zealand and Australian business associations seem to be united in opposing ratification of the Basel Ban Amendment. These businesses are not without a great deal of political clout. Certainly, the country position on this issue is reflective of the Business community and not the public at large in these democracies. Thus democracy has been subjugated and for what purpose? These same businesses stand to gain enormously from the export of hazardous wastes which have become quite expensive to dispose of according to the laws of those respective countries.
While the ban opponent countries like to claim that they are not currently involved in widespread exports of hazardous waste they fail to acknowledge the huge potential for expanding this type of trade and the enormity of the potential savings involved. It is a fact that currently, thanks to diligence on the part of developing countries, the European Union, regional treaties and the Basel Convention, the floodgates have been for the most part closing. There is a non legally binding de-facto global ban now in place. However should the treaty choose to send a different message, via expansion of Annex VII to include countries with vastly different economies and capacities, as is being advocated by ban opponents, that situation would change dramatically. The green light would show "GO".
It is difficult to envisage a reason any more powerful than the obvious, blunt economic one above, for the countries of the United States, Australia, New Zealand and Canada to expend so much of their resources to continually launch initiative after initiative to try and thwart the will of the international community and their own electorate. For a long time we were told that once the definitional ambiguities were clarified, then the business community would cease its opposition to the ban. The business community was mostly satisfied with the new lists of wastes adopted at COP-IV but it is clear now that they will not be satisfied until they have completely eviscerated the Basel Convention's primary accomplishment and pre-occupation since entry into force.
"...the current approach to the ban amendment and its relationship to Annex VII is not sound, nor is it a sufficient end-point in addressing the environmental objective." -- (Canada)
Finally, we agree that the Basel Ban cannot be a "sufficient or effective end-point." There is much more work to be done and more incentives must be given to proceed toward goals of hazardous waste elimination in avoidance of "end-of-pipe" methods such as disposal and recycling. Further, we wish to see the development of mechanisms whereby clean production technologies and clean development are what is promoted for export instead of hazardous wastes. Such trade, unlike the trade in hazardous waste, would allow developing countries to leap-frog the mistaken crisis waste management that has characterized the development of industrialized countries. While the Basel Ban Amendment is not an end-point, we do see it as a landmark and major first step to address issues of the toxic crisis and more generally, sustainability and global environmental justice.
1. COM/ENV/TD(97)41/FINAL, Trade Measures in the Basel Convention on the Control of Transboundary Movements of Hazardous Wastes and Their Disposal, Section 2.2, 27 May 1998.
2. Final National Priority List (NPL) of Sites (1194 as of September 29 1998). Reviewed by the Basel Action Network. Categories and numbers included: Solvent/Chemical Recycling - 26; Oil Waste Recycling - 25; Battery Recycling - 20; Transformer Recycling - 12, Drum Recycling - 9; Metal Sludge Recycling - 8; Secondary Lead Recycling - 5; Wire Recycling - 5; Catalyst Regeneration - 2; Mercury Recycling - 1; Precious Metals - 1; Miscellaneous Recycling - 19.
3. EPA/600/P-98/002A, April 98.