Spills of toxic wastes like the one which flooded the villages of Kolontár, Devecser and Somlovasarhely in Western Hungary in October 2010 trigger legitimate questions about the current global international legal framework that is in place to prevent and react to the serious health and environmental impacts caused by such incidents.
The Basel Convention on the Control of Transboundary Movements of Hazardous Wastes and their Disposal is the most comprehensive global environmental treaty on hazardous and other wastes. To date, it has 175 Parties and aims to protect human health and the environment against the adverse effects resulting from the generation, management, transboundary movement and disposal of hazardous and other wastes.
The Basel Convention rests on two pillars. The Convention sets up a series of control procedures to ensure the prior informed consent (PIC) of Parties to transboundary movements of hazardous and other wastes taking place from, through or to their territories. And it aims at ensuring the environmentally sound management of such wastes.
By “environmentally sound management”, the Convention means “taking all practicable steps to ensure that hazardous and other wastes are managed in a manner which will protect human health and the environment against the adverse effects which may result from such wastes”.
The Basel Convention is among the very few multilateral environmental agreements to require Parties to consider specific actions as “criminal” under domestic legislation. Strong global condemnation of transboundary movements of hazardous and other wastes not undertaken in compliance with the PIC procedure or that result in the dumping of wastes is unambiguously manifested in Article 9 of the Convention.
The Convention text itself, however, does not extend such strong international disapproval to the lack of environmentally sound management of hazardous wastes. It offers a platform for assisting Parties to comply with their obligations under the Convention, through its mechanism for promoting implementation and compliance with the obligations under the Convention.
The generation and transboundary movements of hazardous wastes around the globe continue to increase steadily, a study published this week by the United Nations in Geneva found.
Waste without Frontiers: Global trends in generation and transboundary movement of hazardous wastes and other wastes (www.basel.int/pub/...), a study commissioned by the Parties to the Basel Convention, provides the most comprehensive snapshot of global trends on the generation and transboundary movements of hazardous and other wastes produced under the Convention in its first 21 years of existence.
Parties to the Convention have an obligation to transmit specific information on their transfers of wastes annually.
The study is the first prepared to summarize and analyze these data on the transboundary movement of hazardous and “other wastes” (household waste and incinerator ash) under requirements adopted by the Parties to the Convention in 2008. It only covers information on the legal movements of wastes covered by the Convention and not on illegal movements.
Further information can be found on the Basel Convention website at www.basel.int