Press Release on the 8th OEWG Meeting of the Basel Convention

More than 200 international waste management experts gathered last week to advance global measures to control the transboundary movement of hazardous and other wastes. The 8th meeting of the Open-ended Working Group of the Basel Convention (OEWG) met from 25 to 28 September 2012, in Geneva. The Working Group adopted ten separate decisions aimed at strengthening implementation of the leading global treaty governing hazardous wastes. Considerable progress was made in a number of areas, including the further development of technical guidelines on e-waste and wastes containing persistent organic pollutants (POPs).

Delegates during the Plenary session of Day 1 of the 8th meeting of the Open-ended Working Group of the Basel Convention. Photo credits: Secretariat of the Basel, Rotterdam and Stockholm Conventions.

Jim Willis, Executive Secretary of the Basel, Rotterdam and Stockholm Conventions (UNEP), was quoted as saying that “the importance of having a strong, focused expert body for the Basel Convention was demonstrated once again last week, as participants grappled with a number of challenging issues on e-waste, ship dismantling, POPs-containing waste, end-of-life goods and the country-led initiative. The outstanding progress achieved is a testament to the dedication of participants to protecting human health and the environment from wastes, and to the excellent chairing skills of Jimena Nieto and Luay Al-Mukhtar.”.

Work progressed on technical guidelines for environmentally sound management of wastes containing POPs, with agreement on covering new POPs added in 2010 to the Stockholm Convention on POPs. The guidelines will further strengthen synergies between the two global conventions. Development of technical guidelines for the environmentally sound management of wastes consisting of, containing or contaminated with commercial octabromodiphenyl ether (hexabromodiphenyl ether and heptabromodiphenyl ether); commercial pentabromodiphenyl ether (tetrabromodiphenyl ether and pentabromodiphenyl ether);and perfluorooctane sulfonic acid, its salts and perfluorooctane sulfonyl fluoride were included in the programme of work of a small intersessional working group.

Experts reviewed technical guidelines on transboundary movements of e-waste, which will be further revised and considered for adoption by the Conference of the Parties, the highest governing body of the Convention, at its 11th meeting (COP-11) in 2013. Also, proposals for new entries to the list of wastes contained in Annex IX to the Basel Convention were submitted by Finland, Ireland, and the Netherlands. It was agreed that these proposals will be forwarded to the COP for consideration at its 11th meeting.

As a follow-up to the Indonesian-Swiss country-led initiative to improve the effectiveness of the Basel Convention (CLI) adopted at the 10th meeting of the COP held in Cartagena in October 2011, a report on the interpretation of certain terminology to provide further legal clarity was considered. The OEWG decided that a first step towards achieving this goal was the development of a glossary covering key terminology under the Convention such as waste/non-waste, hazardous/non-hazardous waste, re-use, direct re-use, refurbishment, second hand goods, used goods and end-of-life goods. The Working Group also recommended that COP-11 establish an intersessional group to undertake further work on this core issue under the Convention, including possible consideration of the various legally binding or voluntary options that could be adopted to achieve greater legal clarity.

The OEWG also reviewed a study including options for dealing with the problem posed by the transboundary movement and disposal of used and end-of-life goods (UELG). These goods do not easily fit the paradigm of wastes to be permanently disposed of. The re-use or recycling of such goods can conserve resources and provide significant economic opportunity to both exporting and importing States. At the same time, export of used and end-of-life goods, especially when not accomplished for the purported purpose of re-use, carries risk to health and the environment, particularly in countries that lack the necessary capacity and infrastructure to manage them properly, including assuring environmentally sound management and disposal of any hazardous components. In addition, lack of clarity regarding the status of these goods under the Basel Convention, combined with divergent national approaches, has complicated efforts to effectively manage their transboundary movement.

A legal analysis of the application of the Basel Convention to hazardous wastes and other wastes generated on board ships was considered by the Working Group. It reviewed for instance the relationship between the Basel Convention and the International Convention for the Prevention of Pollution from Ships, 1973, as modified by the Protocol of 1978 as further amended by the Protocol of 1997 (MARPOL) and presented conclusions aimed at clarifying the application of the Basel Convention to such wastes. This matter will be further considered during COP-11.

Other decisions taken at the meeting addressed promoting further development of the Basel Convention’s regional and coordinating centres (BCRCs/BCCCs), the progress in the implementation of the strategic framework and the partnership programme. The 10-year strategic framework had been adopted at COP-10 in 2011.

The biennial meeting of the working group was held back-to-back with the 2nd meeting of the Convention’s Technical Expert Group charged with completing development of a framework for the environmentally sound management of hazardous wastes and other wastes. This meeting was held from 1 to 2 October 2012.

The outcomes of the two meetings will help set the stage for the 11th meeting of the Conference of the Parties to the Basel Convention, which will be held back-to-back with the conferences of the parties to the Rotterdam and Stockholm conventions during a two-week period from 28 April to 10 May 2013 in Geneva. These back-to-back conferences will be held for the first time in tandem with extra-ordinary meetings of the conferences of the parties charged with solidifying synergies among the three conventions.