Environmentalists and developingcountries managed to stave off an attempt to sabotage the Basel Ban on international trade in hazardous substances at the fourth Conference of Parties to the Basel …

industrialised countries and some developing countries who stood to benefit from trade in recyclable hazardous wastes, attempted to sabotage the Basel Convention and remove restrictions from this trade at the fourth Conference of Parties (cop-iv) which was held in Kuching, Malaysia. But the move failed to materialise in the face of stiff opposition from several third world countries.

The contentious issue at cop-iv - held between February 23-27 - was whether opponents of what the convention stood for, as well as the ban on international trade in hazardous wastes, would subvert the aim of the convention. A second issue was adoption of the list of what constitutes hazardous waste, drawn up by the Technical Working Group (twg) of the convention.

cop-iv decided to adopt list a and b , drawn up by the twg , as amendments to the Basel Convention. The first deals with hazardous wastes that are banned, while the second groups substances that can be traded. The conference also managed to keep the threat of proposed amendments to the Basel Convention at bay (see box: At bay or at sea?).

The Basel Convention, signed in 1992, and the subsequent Basel Ban, adopted as an amendment to the convention in September 1995, prohibits trade in hazardous wastes from the industrialised to non-industrialised countries. The industrialised countries include those that are part of the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (oecd) and the European Union (eu). The Basel Ban, adopted as an amendment to the Basel Convention at cop-iii , effectively bans all exports of hazardous wastes from Annex vii to non-Annex vii countries.

Over 300 delegates and observers participated at cop - iv. Government representatives made up the official delegations. Industry was represented by observers from the International Chambers of Commerce (icc), while Greenpeace and the Basel Action Network (ban) represented non-governmental organisations (ngos). The conference was presided by Hajah Rosnani Ibrahim, deputy director-general of the department for environment, Malaysia.
Controversial move While most country statements were made at the plenary session, technical questions and points needing clarification were sorted out by the contact, financial, technical and legal groups. The contact group was to deal with the question of proposed amendments to Annex vii , as well as the adoption of the new lists. Some observers noted that the setting up of a contact group so early on at a conference was unorthodox. "Usually issues are discussed in the plenary under their agenda point, and when proved to be contentious, moved to an open-ended working group," said Jim Puckett of ban.

To the amazement of observers, especially the ngo bloc, Marco Bulleti, the Swiss co-chair of the contact group, asked all observers to vacate the room on technical grounds. Though it was agreed that briefings would take place when-ever there was something to report, the most critical issues were dealt with behind closed doors.The meeting warranted transparency, as the observers would have liked to know first hand who was trying to undermine the convention and the ban. China, Qatar and Malaysia, and later, the eu tried to intervene on behalf of the observers, to no avail.

Lobbying for amendments
Discussion of the proposed amendments to Annex vii dominated the meet. Lobbying reached a feverish peak in the last few hours of the fifth day. Israel, Monaco and Slovenia asked to be admitted to Annex vii . While Monaco pleaded that it was in a similar situation as Liechtenstein, Israel said that it has an entire recycling industry dependent on hazardous wastes as raw material. Slovenia has a large lead acid-battery recycling plant and its own supplies of used car batteries falls far short of the plant's capacity. But developing countries, which are the most adversely affected by dumping and movement of hazardous wastes, protested against the opening of Annex vii . They feared that revising the list of countries would lead to a 'domino effect' - one country after another would plead for exemption, making the Basel Ban meaningless.

"The only enforceable global dividing line between the richest, most industrialised countries and the rest of the world would be erased. The Basel Ban would be transformed into an open-ended agreement based perhaps on some form of unenforceable criteria for 'environmentally sound' management," said Julia Kalmirah of the Indonesian Forum for Environment, Jakarta.

The Netherlands and Germany reportedly worked hard behind the scenes to argue in favour of Annex vii expansion. They had taken this line to ensure that issue remains open and could be taken up at a later stage, in cop - v.

The presence of a British delegation led by Lizette Simcock of the department of the environment, uk , was cause for concern. The uk and Simcock have both fought against the Basel Ban at previous conferences. It was feared that under uk's leadership, the eu position could fluctuate at the meeting. There was little doubt that Canada, Australia, the Netherlands and New Zealand were strongly in favour of opening Annex vii and making the ban more 'flexible'.

Stands different countries took
Country Position Reasons
Arab League (Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Syria, Yemen, Tunisia, Jordan, Lebanon) No amendments to the Ban, no changes to Annex VII These countries feel that any form of trade would lead to dumping
Israel Asked for entry to Annex VII Has an established recycling industry
Slovenia Asked for entry to Annex VII Has an established recycling industry
Monaco Asked for entry to Annex VII Sililar position as Liechtenstein
Netherlands & Germany Worked at Keeping Annex VII open (behind the scenes) To include other non-Annex VII countries in Annex VII
Canada, Australia & New Zealand Worked at opening Annex VII, openly and vocally Have interests in keeping open waste trade
Chile, Denmark, South Africa, Phillipines, Brazil, Argentina and Malaysia Made requests to seek criteria All have recycling industry
Sri Lanka, Cuba & Turkey No to opening Annex VII Do not want any trade in hazardous wastes
China No additions to Annex VII till ban is in place Playing watch and wait

The behind-the-scenes lobbying became apparent with Chile forwarding a proposal to look into criteria for Annex vii expansion. This received immediate vocal support from Denmark, which was joined by other g -77 countries, South Africa, Philippines, Brazil, Argentina and even Malaysia.

These attempts to open Annex vii were met by an equally forceful Arab League. Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Qatar, Syria, Oman, Yemen, Tunisia, Egypt, Jordan, Lebanon and Morocco firmly rejected the proposals for additions to Annex vii countries and the establishment of criteria for its membership. Several African nations supported them. "No study. No criteria. No additions," they chanted. They said that such attempts would violate the general obligations of the convention and consequently destroy it. They were supported by strong statements from Sri Lanka, Turkey and Cuba. China agreed, but softened its position, saying that there should be no additions to Annex vii until the ban comes into force. This view received a lot of support. The ban has been ratified by only 16 parties as yet and needs 48 more signatories to come into force.

The possibility of a compromise was in the air, which would allow some form of 'criteria' for Annex vii membership to be developed between cop - iv and cop - v , scheduled to be held in Geneva next year.

India's only contribution at this point was to raise technicalities, most which were shot down by the chair of the plenary (see box: Need for introspection ). Warned by the ministry of external affairs not to make any controversial statement, the Indian delegation sat on the fence, picking at minor issues that could well have been sorted out at the twg. Off the microphone, however, India was in favour of studying the criteria for admission of parties to Annex vii.

"We must know how it benefits a country to be in Annex vii ," said Indrani Chandrashekaran, director, ministry of environment and forests (mef). "Besides, if we can force the Basel Convention to look into this issue, we can get data and information of industry in Annex vii countries."

This argument made little sense, as the Annex vii countries (the oecd and eu) have far stronger rules and laws governing trade in hazardous wastes. Henrik A Harjula, principal administrator of oecd's environment directorate, told Down To Earth that list B of the Basel Convention, has far more items than oecd 's list of freely tradable hazardous wastes. The adoption of lists a and b clarified an issue of concern to India: Would the ban affect jobs in India? With uncontaminated lead scrap and several forms of waste zinc on list b (free for trade), these fears should have been allayed. Yet India's stance was unclear.

On the fourth day, new unep chief Klaus Toepfer called for immediate implementation of the Basel Ban. "So-called recycling activities are devastating for the environment, poisoning the soil and air, and causing acute health problems by spreading diseases in different parts of the world," he said.

Toepfer's speech was followed by long speeches by various countries. Country statements that supported the Basel Ban were those made by Indonesia, Tanzania and Mauritius. The most unfavourable ones were delivered by Australia, New Zealand and Canada. The latter not only supported expansion of Annex vii but also raised questions regarding the convention's compatibility with the World Trade Organisation.

The final session
While lists A and B had been adopted without a murmur, a battle royal ensued when Annex vii came up. In his submission, Marco Bulleti of the contact group informed the plenary that they had drawn up a draft decision regarding Annex vii . The vital part of this draft read: "[The Convention] decides at this time to leave Annex vii unchanged (until the amendment contained in Decision iii /1 enters into force)." The parentheses at the end of the sentence implied that the amendment -ratification of the Ban - was not an important issue.

Once again, the Arab League and African countries reacted to the statement, calling it 'too weak'. They said that the parentheses and the phrase 'at this time' should be removed. Canada strongly opposed these changes, saying that since the time-frame for ratification was unclear it made little sense holding up amendments to Annex vii .

While the arguments flowed back and forth, Ibrahim hurriedly adopted the amended version. Australia, Canada, New Zealand and Israel protested against the sudden adoption of the amended version and forced the cop-iv president to reopen the discussion. These countries were joined, much to everybody's amazement, by the eu. Since there appeared to be little consensus, Saudi Arabia reminded the floor that the decision on the wording of the statement could always be settled by a vote. At this point, the eu , followed by New Zealand, Canada and Australia, quickly backed off.

The final statement by cop - iv read: "[The Convention] decides to leave Annex vii unchanged until the amendment contained in Decision iii /1 enters into force." The decision to disallow changes to Annex vii till the ban comes into force was seen as victory for those supporting the Basel Ban. Most of them were of the opinion that the issue of amendments to Annex vii would come up only after ratification of the ban. "By the looks of it, that would take at least five years, by which time industry would have adjusted itself and adopted newer production techniques," said Kevin Stairs of Greenpeace. It was a temporary truce in the guise of a minor victory.

Soft victory
By deciding to sit on Annex vii till the ratification process is complete, and adopting lists a and b, cop-iv sent out the right signal to the world's community. The message is:

l That parties to the Basel Convention and the Basel Ban are serious about dealing with hazardous wastes;

l Hazardous waste generation will have to be reduced, and

l International trade in hazardous wastes should be stopped.

As Lim Cheng Sang of the Federation of Malaysian Manufacturers' Association said, "Industries should be happy with the lists as they clearly define what constitutes hazardous waste and what does not." Harvey Alter of the icc , however, was not quite happy, and said that cop - iv did not affect investment decisions.

It was clear that the 'battle' for cleaner production across the world is far from over. Nations that are reluctant to change technologies will keep finding ways and means to evade the ban and even the convention. The convention allows bilateral trade in hazardous wastes, and the lists of toxic substances can be always be amended. India has yet to ratify the ban, but it is clear that it will do so after it approaches the twg for amendments to the lists.

Defining waste
Lists of substances adopted by the Basel Convention in 1998
Metal wastes consisting of alloys of lead Clean uncontaminated lead scrap
Wastes containing or contaminated by lead and its compounds Zinc ash and residues unless they exhibit hazardous characteristics
Zinc waste not included in list B Zinc containing drosses
Unsorted waste batteries excluding mixtures only of list B batteries Slag from zinc production
Waste mineral oils unfit for their intended use Zinc scrap that is not dispersible
Waste oils, hydrocarbons and emulsions Waste batteries conforming to a specification, excluding those made of lead

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