SECRETARIAT OF THE BASEL CONVENTION
 
 

Statement

by

Executive  Secretary 
Ms. Sashiko Kuwabara-Yamamoto
 

at the World Summit for Sustainable Development

 Johannesburg, South Africa
30 August  2002

In Agenda 21, UNCED stressed the importance of hazardous waste management for public health, environmental protection and sustainable development. Ten years since the Rio Summit, the generation of wastes and emissions of pollutants or contaminants to soil, air, and water, continue to present major threats to people and the environment.

The problem is particularly acute in the urban area. Today, nearly half of the world population lives in the cities. Rapid industrialization coupled with the expansion of urban areas has significant impact on energy and other resources consumptions.
Most of the urban expansion is taking place in developing countries that often lack the capacity to mitigate the harmful effects of wastes and pollution and are unlikely to build such capacity in the near future. Unsound management or disposal of these wastes, including hazardous wastes, has been recognized as being among the most serious environmental problems facing urban areas in developing countries. Uncontrolled accumulation of solid wastes, often mixed with hazardous wastes, stocks of obsolete pesticides and other hazardous materials and discharges of municipal and industrial toxic effluents, has the potential to cause serious and long-lasting health and environmental damages in many developing countries and countries with economies in transition.

Problems of wastes are also presenting a serious challenge to the developed countries. While waste recovery such as recycling, or re-use has increased considerably, it has not been sufficient to reverse the trend of increasing volumes of waste destined for final disposal. Many countries are experiencing difficulties in managing the wastes they produce - hazardous as well as non-hazardous wastes - within their territorial boundaries.

Sustainable development cannot be achieved without effective measures to alleviate the problem of wastes. Indeed, safeguarding of clean water, air and soil to protect human health and the ecosystems cannot be realized without the environmentally sound management of wastes and their reduction at the sources. A strong economy cannot be realised without bringing the high cost of waste management to a reasonable level. For
example, costs of eliminating asbestos from aging buildings or old automobiles in developing countries will place an enormous economic burden on the infrastructure and resources of national and local governments. Concerted action at the national as well as international level is urgently required to reduce the amount of wastes, and to better handle what remains.

Added to the existing stocks of hazardous wastes, new types of wastes are emerging. The Basel Convention is increasingly focusing its attention on forging public/private partnership to promote the environmentally sound management of post-consumer goods or end of life equipment within on the concept of the integrated life-cycle management of materials. The life-cycle management approach effectively tackles the problem of wastes by going up stream to their sources. Take dismantling of ships, for example. Better ship design will help prepare old ships for recycling because such ships will carry or have as part of their structure less hazardous materials, which in turn would alleviate environmental and health burdens at the recycling yard and disposal sites. The same can be said of many other consumer goods or equipment such as old mobile phones and computers. This new venture and challenge posed by electronic wastes requires the private sector to be more proactive and to enter into direct cooperation with bodies such as the Secretariat of the Basel Convention. Up-front investment in waste minimization makes environmental, social and economic sense.

The Basel Convention
The Basel Convention thus recognizes that the most effective way of protecting human health and the environment from the dangers posed by hazardous and other wastes is the reduction of their generation. Also, the Convention acknowledges that States should take the necessary measures to ensure that the management of hazardous wastes and other wastes, including their trausboundary movements, is done in such a way as to protect human health and the environment, wherever the place of disposal. The basic obligation of Parties to the Convention clearly spells out these principles. The Convention, in partnership with its 151 Parties, is working towards the effective and universal application of these principles.

The Basel Declaration on Environmentally Sound Management
Experience has shown that even if a waste is not characterized as hazardous under the Basel Convention, inappropriate handling or unsound management of such waste may result in damage to human health and the environment. It is wise to stipulate, in this context, that the underlined principle of the Basel Convention, namely the environmentally sound management, is a concept that is equally applicable to non-hazardous wastes.
The 1999 Basel Ministerial Declaration indeed recognizes that environmentally sound management is applicable to hazardous and non-hazardous wastes. Environmentally sound management means that disposal or recovery of hazardous and other wastes must be seen in the context of the integrated life-cycle management of materials to foster sustainable development, with particular emphasis on waste minimization. The level of environmental safety varies greatly from country to country, or from facility to facility. It is seen as important to harmonize the environmental safety level or standing among countries and at the disposal or recovery facilities.

Call for global action
On the occasion of the World Summit on Sustainable Development, the secretariat of the Basel Convention would like to call for global action for the creation of the strategic partnership that could help a quantum jump in reducing hazardous and other wastes in all countries, developed or developing. International architecture for cooperation in waste management is evolving. Within the framework of the Plan of Implementation of the World Summit on Sustainable Development, Governments will renew their commitment to sound management of chemicals throughout their life cycle and of hazardous wastes for sustainable development and for the protection of human health and the environment. In this regard, cooperation en the Basel Convention and the Stockholm Convention on Persistent Organic pollutants and other chemical conventions should be further strengthened. The Strategic Plan for the Implementation of the Basel Convention which is currently being developed identifies priority activities for the next ten years in the prevention, minimization and control of hazardous and other wastes. The twelve Basel Convention Regional Centers for Training and Technology Transfer that are located all over the world, will be an important regional mechanism for assisting countries in implementing the Strategic Plan in partnership with other stockholders. It should be our common goal that ten years from the Johannesburg Summit, there will be a better and safer world for our children, and their children to come, through a rigorous and effective implementation of the Johannesburg commitment.