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Basel Talks Advance Hazwaste Emergency Response, Compensation

GENEVA, Switzerland, April 23, 1999 (ENS) - The Basel Convention, the international treaty governing transboundary movement of hazardous wastes, is on its way to becoming the first global environmental agreement to include provisions for liability and compensation for damages. Measures for emergency response to hazardous waste accidents are also in the works.

waste

Hazardous waste waiting for transport (Photo courtesy AVR International BV)
A two-week series of three preparatory meetings on the transboundary movement of hazardous wastes is winding up in Geneva today after making progress on all major items. Agreements will be finalized at the Fifth Session of the Conference of the Parties (COP-5) to the Basel Convention, to be held in Basel, Switzerland from December 6 to 10.

Under the chairmanship of Perla de Alfaro of El Salvador, the Ad Hoc Working Group moved forward on the core issues of the Draft Protocol on Liability and Compensation for Damage Resulting from Transboundary Movements of Hazardous Wastes and their Disposal.

The Group grappled with the Protocol's scope, and the establishment of an Emergency Response and Compensation Mechanism. The improved draft text will now go forward to the Committee for Implementation, which meets in June.

hazwaste

Toxic dump
Based on the progress made this week and the good spirit of cooperation, the Working Group is optimistic about the chances of adopting the protocol on liability and compensation in December. This would make Basel the first global environmental agreement to include such a regime.

The Technical Working Group agreed on draft guidelines for the management of both plastics and tires. Many developing countries urgently need technical guidelines for reducing risks from these important categories of wastes at the national level. Good progress was also made on the first draft of guidelines for biomedical and health wastes.

hazwaste

Workers dealing with hazardous waste (Photo and next courtesy AVR International BV)
The technical group also advanced on "hazard characterization," which involves rigorously defining indicators such as "ecotoxicity" and "acute toxicity" for use in evaluating the content of wastes.

Delegates discussed the problem of dismantling old ships, which can contain large quantities of asbestos, PCBs, and other hazardous wastes.

The problem of illegal transboundary traffic in hazardous wastes came up for discussion at the second joint meeting of the Technical Working Group with the Consultative Subgroup of Legal and Technical Experts. It explored how to improve the monitoring of traffic over international borders through cooperation with Interpol and the World Customs Organization and through other practical methods.

hazwaste The joint meeting also worked on developing a monitoring and compliance regime for the Basel Convention. This regime will be facilitative and non-confrontational, focusing on supporting and helping governments that are having difficulties complying with their obligations.

Progress was also made on elaborating the practical aspects of an emergency mechanism, which would include a fund for rapid clean-ups in the event of an incident.

The Basel Convention was adopted in March 1989 after a series of notorious "toxic cargoes" from industrialized countries drew public attention to the dumping of hazardous wastes in developing and East European countries. It entered into force in May 1992 and now has 123 Parties. The last Conference of the Parties was held in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia in February 1998.

© Environment News Service (ENS) 1999. All Rights Reserved.


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