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6-Genetech §§: BIOSAFETY - Environmental liability in the Basel Convention



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TITLE:  Basel Ministers agree to Liability Protocol
SOURCE: BRIDGES Weekly Trade News Digest, Vol. 3, No. 48
        Institute for Agriculture and Trade Politics, USA,         bridges@iatp.org
DATE:   December 15, 1999

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Basel Ministers agree to Liability Protocol

Delegates from 130 countries met from 6-10 December in Basel,
Switzerland for the Fifth Session of the Conference of the
Parties (COP-5) to the Basel Convention on Hazardous Wastes.
Inter alia, Ministers took up the issues of adopting a Protocol
for Liability and Compensation for Damage Resulting from
Transboundary Movements of Hazardous Wastes and their Disposal;
technical assistance; partnerships with non-governmental
organisations and industry; and various technical issues.

Ministers did indeed adopt the long awaited Protocol for
Liability and Compensation for Damage Resulting from
Transboundary Movements of Hazardous Wastes and their Disposal.
The Protocol is meant to stem so-called "environmental
colonialism", or the dumping of toxic materials in poor countries
by rich industrialised nations. The Protocol covers damage "due
to an incident occurring during a transboundary movement of
hazardous wastes and other wastes and their disposal, including
illegal traffic, from the point where the wastes are loaded on
the means of transport in an area under national jurisdiction of
a state of export."

"For the first time, we have a mechanism for assigning
responsibility for damage caused by accidental spills of
hazardous waste during export or import," said Klaus Toepfer,
Executive Director of the United Nations Environment Programme
(UNEP). "The adoption of the Protocol is a major breakthrough."

A number of environmental groups were less optimistic. "The
liability protocol is the sad result of 10 years of effort by the
industrial lobby to reduce the original intention to a text with
as many holes and exclusions as Swiss cheese", argued Kevin
Stairs, political adviser with Greenpeace International. "The
protocol is a dangerous precedent and is unlikely to ever, ever
provide adequate relief for victims of toxic waste or serve as an
incentive to avoid hazardous waste trafficking."

Delegates also agreed to expand the scope of financial
mechanisms, establishing an emergency and compensatory fund for
assisting developing countries in cases of emergency and
compensation for damage resulting from the transboundary
movements of wastes and their disposal. The funds may also be
used for capacity building and technology transfer in developing
countries towards implementing measures to prevent accidents and
damage to the environment caused by transboundary waste movement
and disposal. Delegates debated whether the contributions to the
fund should be mandatory or voluntary, with a number of
developing countries calling for mandatory contributions to
ensure adequate funding, while some developed countries argued
for "voluntary" contributions. The Protocol calls for voluntary
contributions.

The agreement on financial mechanisms is an interim one, to be
reviewed during later negotiations. African countries were
amongst other developing countries arguing that the financial
mechanisms agreed to do not adequately ensure developing
countries would be equipped to deal with potential emergencies.
However, they agreed to the Protocol in the spirit of compromise.
Zambian Environment Minister Benjamin Mwila said on behalf of the
African group of countries that "Africa will adopt the draft
protocol with the understanding that we are in an interim period
during which parties will review the financial mechanism to be
established." Ministers also agreed to a Ministerial Declaration
in which environmentally sound management of hazardous wastes
would constitute the Basel Convention agenda for the next decade,
including the need to focus on building "a sound financial basis
and development of strategies to harness market forces to promote
environmentally sound management."

"Agreement on liability protocol reached at Basel Conference of
Parties," INTERNATIONAL ENVIRONMENT REPORTER, 8 December 1999
"Summary of the Fifth Conference of the Parties to the Basel
Convention on the control of transboundary movements of hazardous
wastes and their disposal: 6-10 December 1999" EARTH NEGOTIATIONS
BULLETIN (IISD), 13 December 1999
"Compensation and Liability Protocol adopted by Basel Convention
on Hazardous Wastes," UNEP PRESS RELEASE, 10 December 1999


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