International Management of Hazardous Wastes: The Basel Convention and Related Legal Rules

By Katharina Kummer | Go to book overview

Introduction

During the past decade, the problem of transboundary transport of toxic and dangerous wastes, and their disposal far from the place of generation, has become a major environmental issue acknowledged by the international community. A number of widely publicized incidents of uncontrolled dumping of hazardous wastes from industrialized nations in Third World countries created world-wide awareness of the dangers connected with this practice. The amount of hazardous wastes shipped across national borders has increased dramatically in recent years. On a global scale, thousands of transboundary movements of hazardous wastes take place every year, some in accordance with national and international law but others illegally.

Accordingly, from the mid- 1980s, various international organizations initiated the elaboration of international legal instruments to address this issue. Among these legal instruments, the Basel Convention on the Control of Transboundary Movements of Hazardous Wastes and their Disposal, negotiated under the auspices of UNEP, is the first to attempt comprehensive regulation of transboundary movements and the disposal of hazardous wastes on a global scale. The Basel Convention is the outcome of 18 months of difficult negotiations. It was adopted in early 1989 and entered into force in May 1992 after an initially slow ratification process. Celebrated by some as one of UNEP's major successes in promoting the development of international environmental law, it was harshly criticized by others for allegedly legitimizing 'garbage imperialism' i.e. the use of developing countries as cheap dumping grounds for hazardous wastes from the rich countries of the North. At the time of its adoption, the new convention was thus surrounded by controversy, and its future was uncertain. While its supporters optimistically expected it to enter into force within a year after adoption, its critics predicted that due to its inherent weaknesses, it would never receive the necessary number of ratifications, and would therefore remain an ineffective declaration of intentions.

The position of the Basel Convention within the body of existing and emerging international legal rules addressing the same and related fields was equally uncertain. After a lengthy debate, a provision was incorporated into the convention which was designed to establish its role as an 'umbrella' for regional waste management systems. The negotiators also considered it important that the future convention secretariat should co-operate with other organizations engaged in similar codification efforts. In addition, the need to harmonize the new treaty with established legal rules in related fields, namely marine pollution, transport of dangerous goods by sea, and the management of radioactive wastes, was repeatedly stressed during the

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