At the recent tenth Conference of the Parties to the Basel Convention on the Control of Transboundary Movement of Hazardous Wastes and their Disposal, the parties adopted the so-called ‘Basel Bal’ which will ban export of waste from Annex VII countries (OECD, EU and Liechtenstein) to developing countries. The ban was originally adopted in 1995 at the Third Conference of the Parties but has since lingered on the fringes. Thanks to behind-the scenes work by Indonesia and Switzerland, however, the parties have now adopted the ban by virtue of inserting a new Article 4A into the Convention.
Previously the Basel Convention has been operating with limited ban on export of hazardous waste based on a system of ‘prior consent’ whereby an importing state is entitled to refuse import of hazardous waste (i.e. on the grounds of sovereignty). More importantly, Article 4 prohibits States from exporting hazardous waste to other States if there is reason to believe that the waste will not be dealt with in an environmentally sound manner. At the same time, the Convention prohibits the export from and import to non-parties to the Convention enticing non-party States to join the Convention. The ban on export of hazardous waste in Article 4 is modified by exemptions that allow countries to export if the exporting State does not have the facilities to dispose of the waste in an environmentally sound manner or if the waste is required as raw materials or recycling in the importing country. The latter exemption of waste intended for recycling has subsequently been heavily criticised, as it has been argued that it has led to hazardous waste merely being labelled as “recyclable”. The new ban is set to come into force once ratified by an additional 17 parties.
For more information on the Convention and the ban see here.
Environmental justice requires that a country should be exposed to approbation if its environmental performance is less stringent in relation to poor populations or developing countries. The export of hazardous waste for disposal in developing countries represents a failure of environmental justice on a global scale. It places a disproportionate burden on poor countries and threatens human health and the environment. The Basel Convention is an important first step in achieving environmental justice for developing countries. Admittedly, it falls short of this objective in a number of respects.