Parties take a step forward to make it easy to enforce Basel Ban Amendment

Despite a heavy downpour that flooded the city of Cartagena de Indias in Colombia, the venue of the ongoing 10th Conference of Parties (CoP) to the Basel Convention,  day 3 of the meet saw full attendance. The day's highlight was the decision on the Ban Amendment, taken at the contact group meeting of the Indonesian-Swiss country-led initiative (CLI). The initiative was introduced on the first day of the meet; its aim is to improve effectiveness of the Basel Convention.

The parties in the CLI contact group agreed to the “fixed time” approach for implementing the Ban Amendment as against the “current time” approach. The latter has been a sticking point for the past 15 years, preventing the Basel Ban Amendment from coming into force. (See 'Fixed time v current time')

The CLI draft decision includes three mutually supportive elements: entry into force of the Ban Amendment; environmentally sound management (ESM) of hazardous wastes; and legal clarity around key Convention provisions. This is a major positive step in the direction of implementing the Ban Amendment.

Fixed time v current time

The Basel Ban Amendment has exceeded 62 ratification from member states, which accounts for three-fourth of the number of parties present (82) in 1995 when the landmark decision was adopted.

At the time the ratifications neared 62 in number, it was discovered upon a close reading, that the text of the Convention regarding entry into force (coming into force) of amendments was ambiguous.

The small minority of countries which opposed the amendment seized upon the vague wording and used it to prevent the ban from coming into force.

In the absence of an agreement by the parties on the relevant clause, UN's Office of Legal Affairs will apply what is known as the “current time” approach, requiring the ratification of three-fourth number of parties at any given time.

Such an approach would at present require ratification by 133 countries. The “fixed time” approach, on the other hand, requires ratification by three-fourth of the number of parties present at the 1995 meeting when the amendment was adopted.

The parties also agreed to the section on illegal trade and assisting vulnerable parties to prohibit hazardous waste imports with some minor changes. There were some discussions on whether to use the term “vulnerable” parties, “developing countries” or simply “parties” while referring to those countries which are unable to ensure  environmentally sound management of waste.

Hong Kong Convention out of way

The Hong Kong Convention was discussed at the ship dismantling contact group meeting. On whether the Basel convention and the Hong Kong Convention had any similarities, parties noted that the two were made to fulfill divergent objectives and comparing them was like comparing apples and oranges.

Arguing that the Hong Kong Convention did not provide the same level of control, one country expressed fear of becoming a 'recycling state'. The Hong Kong Convention-supporting nations stated there was no requirement under the treaty that the state approve ship recycling facilities.

An observer pointed out that under the Hong Kong Convention there is no right to ban imports nor is there a notification procedure on such imports. Till the end of the third day, discussions continued on ship abandonment and prior informed consent.

On the issue of e-waste, it was decided that the delegates would continue to work in an inter-session working group and help draw guidelines.

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