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Hazardous wastes talks to consider liability regime for Basel Convention

Geneva/Nairobi, 9 April 1999 - The United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) is holding a series of three meetings in Geneva over the next two weeks to prepare for the Fifth Session of the Conference of the Parties (COP-5) to the Basel Convention on the Control of the Transboundary Movement of Hazardous Wastes and Their Disposal. COP-5 will take place in Basel, Switzerland from 6-10 December 1999 and ministers are expected to adopt a protocol on liability and compensation.

"The negotiations this month are vital for the success of December's high-level gathering, which will mark the Convention's tenth anniversary," said UNEP Executive Director Klaus Toepfer. "With a protocol on liability and compensation, this Convention will become the first global environmental agreement to include such a regime."

In Geneva, The Ninth Session of the Ad Hoc Working Group of Legal and Technical Experts to Consider and Develop a Draft Protocol on Liability and Compensation for Damage Resulting from Transboundary Movements of Hazardous Wastes and their Disposal will meet from 19-23 April. Delegates will try to finalize as much of the draft text as possible, in order to forward it to COP-5 for completion. (See document UNEP/CHW.1/WG.1/8/5 available on the Internet at www.unep.ch/basel/).

The impetus for this protocol comes from developing countries concerned about their lack of financial and technological capacity for cleaning up unwanted hazardous waste dumps or spills on their territory. A key outstanding issue is the protocol's scope. For example, should the liability regime apply from the moment a shipment crosses a national border to the time complete disposal has occurred? Should the regime apply to illegal traffic as well?

A related question is who is financially responsible in the event of an incident: The generator of the wastes? The exporter? Each phase of a transboundary movement, from the generation of wastes to their export, international transit, import, and final disposal, must be considered. Delegates will also discuss the operation and funding of a Multilateral Fund (to pay for clean-up operations until the liable party is identified) and an Emergency Fund (for urgent action immediately after an incident).

The two other COP-5 related meetings in Geneva this month include The Second Joint Meeting of the Technical Working Group with the Consultative Sub-group of Legal and Technical Experts to be held from 14-16 April.

This meeting will address the problem of identifying and preventing illegal traffic. The pressure that the Basel Convention has put on the hazardous waste trade, combined with the continued worldwide generation of over 440 million tonnes of hazardous wastes annually (of which some 10% enters into international trade), has increased the need for a rigorous system to discourage illegal trade.

The joint meeting will also consider compliance monitoring and dispute settlement. The issue of membership in the Convention's Annex VII (listing developed countries), which is closely related to the 1995 Amendment banning all exports of hazardous wastes from developed to developing countries for final disposal and recovery operations, is also on the table.

The first meeting in the Basel Convention series is the Fifteenth Session of the Technical Working Group which will be held from 12-14 April. The Group will examine the lists created under the Ban Amendment. The first list (Annex VIII) contains wastes characterized as hazardous under the Convention, the second (Annex IV) those that can be safely recycled or re-used and are thus not covered by the treaty, and the third (List C) wastes whose category has not yet been agreed.

The Working Group will also draft technical guidelines to help governments improve their domestic management of various types of wastes, such as used tires and plastic wastes.

The Basel Convention was adopted in March 1989 after a series of notorious "toxic cargoes" from industrialized countries galvanized world outrage over the dumping of hazardous wastes in developing and East European countries. It entered into force in May 1992 and now has 123 Parties. The 1995 Ban Amendment has thus far been ratified by 13 Parties. The last COP was held in Kuala Lumpur in February 1998.

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Note to journalists: The meetings will take place in Room 12 of the Palais des Nations, Geneva.

For more information please contact
Iwona Rummel-Bulska
on tel: (+41-22) 917 8213, fax: 797 3454,
or
Michael Williams
on (+41-22) 917 8242/44, fax: 797 3464,
e-mail: mwilliams@unep.ch.

Official documents and other materials are available in English on the Internet at www.unep.ch/basel/.

In Nairobi, contact:
Tore J. Brevik,
UNEP Spokesman
on tel: (+254-2) 623292,
email: brevikt@unep.org,
or
Robert Bisset
on tel: 623084, fax: 623692,
email: bissetr@unep.org UNEP News Release 1999/25

Friday 09 Apr 1999
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