The 1980s witnessed a tremendous leap in the global commitments toward environmental protection. One such initiative to counter the problem of environmental dumping, countries adopted the Basel Convention on the Control of Transboundary Movements of Hazardous Waste and their Disposal in 1989, under the mandate of the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) (Basel Convention, n.d.). The Convention, named after the location at which it was adopted, came into effect in 1992. Today, 188 member states are parties to the Convention (UNTC, n.d.). The Convention is also supplemented by a Protocol on Liability and Compensation for Damage Resulting from Transboundary Movements of Hazardous Wastes. The Protocol elaborates an already extensive Convention by bringing into action the 13th Principle of the 1992 Rio Declaration on Environment and Development, which mandates the development of domestic laws regarding liability and compensation for the victims of pollution and other environmental damage, as well as calls for “expeditious” and “determined” cooperation among states to further international law regarding liability and compensation for adverse environmental impacts (Rio Declaration on Environment and Development, 2006). Basel Convention emanated in the backdrop of environmental dumping. Environmental dumping is the act of shipping waste generated from one country to another to get rid of the same. The Convention provides universal guidelines for the transshipment of waste.
The COP and the Secretariat
To enhance the prospect of global exchange of information and cooperation on the matter, Articles 15 and 16 of the Convention establish a ‘Conference of the Parties’ (hereby referred to as COP) and a Secretariat respectively (The Convention > Conference of the Parties > Overview and Mandate, n.d.). The main function of the COP is to oversee implementation of the Convention, the Protocol, and their provisions. Further, if the need for an amendment to the Convention arises, the party states will have the opportunity to discuss the nature and relevance of the amendment through a COP, and then route the consensus through the Secretariat and incorporate it into the Convention text. Fifteen COPs have been conducted so far, the latest being in July 2021.
The aim of the Convention is to protect human health and the environment against the adverse effects resulting from the generation, transboundary movements, and management of hazardous wastes and other wastes. It regulates the movements of hazardous wastes and other wastes (toxic, poisonous, explosive, corrosive, flammable, ecotoxic, and infectious wastes) across boundaries and makes it binding on its Parties to ensure that such wastes are managed and disposed of in an environmentally friendly manner. Since the Convention is binding on the parties, each member has an obligation to minimize the quantity of waste generated within their jurisdiction and further treat, transport, and then dispose of the waste to other countries. The Convention also underwent amendments.
The Amendments to the Convention
The Ban Amendment was introduced to the Convention during the 1994 COP and adopted in 1995. It specifically bans the export of hazardous wastes from three entities, namely the European Union, the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), and Liechtenstein (a European principality) (Implementation > Legal Matters > Ban Amendment > Overview, n.d.). The amendment mandated so because the mentioned entities collectively contributed to the largest amounts of hazardous waste exports in the world, especially electronic and plastic wastes that led to pollution in receiving states across Africa and Asia. In 2019, the Amendment came into force and became Article 4A of the Convention. In the 14th COP in 2019, the Convention underwent another amendment to expand the scope of hazardous plastic waste (Overview, n.d.). Titled the “Plastic Waste Amendment,” it came into force on 24 March 2020.
India’s Commitments to Basel
India became a party to the Basel Convention in 1992 itself, and since then, has rallied for various provisions of the Convention as its foreign policy priority. India enacted the Hazardous Waste (Management & Handling) Rules in 1989 under the mandate of the Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change (MoEFCC), even before the Basel Convention came into the picture, to regulate the transboundary and internal movement of hazardous wastes. After ratifying the Convention, India upgraded the Hazardous Waste rules in 2000 and 2003, and finally, in 2008, the MoEFCC released the final notification of the Hazardous Waste (Management, Handling, and Transboundary Movement) Rules, in line with the Basel provisions. The 2008 rules were once amended in 2016 as well (CPCB, 2021).
Since the beginning of discussions on the transboundary movement of hazardous waste, India has been a significant voice for developing countries across various Basel COPs, as well as joint COPs for Basel, Stockholm, and Rotterdam Conventions. India’s main arguments on hazardous waste revolve around the opposition to the export of such waste to developing countries (India Sets the Tone at COP Meetings of Basel, Rotterdam, and Stockholm Conventions Held in Geneva., 2019). India banned the dumping of solid plastic waste into the country and has taken significant steps to phase out the use of single-use plastics as well. The renewed focus of the MoEFCC and other Ministries like Agriculture, Chemicals, and Electronics and Information Technology is on phasing out e-waste dumping in developing countries as well. To that end, India established the 2016 E-Waste Management Rules.
The Convention also addressed the Sustainable Development Goals of the United Nations. The Convention is a landmark international instrument to regulate and control the transboundary movement of hazardous waste. Its various COPs have yielded significant technical and academic reports that expand our legal and political understanding of waste traffic management in the international arena. The Convention does not cover radiological and nuclear waste material, because it relies on other multilateral and regional arrangements to cover the movement and control of such hazardous wastes. Nonetheless, the provisions of the Convention are essential standards to help in waste management and climate change mitigation.
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