Monday, November 27, 2006

Basel Convention COP8 Meeting On e-Waste Begins In Nairobi

Nov 27: The eighth meeting of the Basel Convention, Conference of the Parties (COP8) begins at the United Nations Environmental Program's (UNEP’s) Headquarters in Nairobi, Kenya. The COP8 meeting will run from November 27 to December 1, 2006, and will be hosted by the Government of Kenya, and will be the first time the Convention COP takes place in Africa. Some 120 governments are expected to meet at the Basel Convention on the Transboundary Movement of Hazardous Wastes and their Disposal which was adopted in 1989. The theme of COP8 will be “Creating innovative solutions through the Basel Convention for the environmentally sound management of electronic wastes”. On Thursday, November 30, the Conference will convene a high-level “World Forum on E-Wastes.”

Electronic wastes include, in particular, end-of-life computers, including printers and accessories and television sets. The theme was suggested because individuals and corporations, in many parts of the world, are buying great quantities of computers and television sets, which are often replaced after a short lifespan with new models as technology advances. According to an announcement in the COP8 Bulletin, on the one hand, the problem is how to deal with large new waste streams containing lead, cadmium, mercury and other hazardous materials. On the other, the issue offers an important and focused opportunity for raising awareness about the environmentally sound management of wastes and the integrated life-cycle approach.

Executive Director Achim Steiner of the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) said, “Like the climate change treaties, the Basel Convention promotes clean technologies and processes that minimize unwanted by-products. It provides the tools and incentives we need to both empower and motivate the producers and consumers of goods that generate hazardous wastes to pursue innovative solutions. In this way the Convention also advances sustainable development and the UN’s Millennium Development Goals.”

According to a UNEP release, some 20 to 50 million metric tonnes of e-waste are generated worldwide every year, comprising more than 5% of all municipal solid waste. When the millions of computers purchased around the world every year (183 million in 2004) become obsolete they leave behind lead, cadmium, mercury and other hazardous wastes. In the US alone, some 14 to 20 million PCs are thrown out every year. In the EU the volume of e-waste is expected to increase by 3 to 5 per cent a year. Developing countries are expected to triple their output of e-waste by 2010. Similarly, the use and disposal of mobile phones – which like PCs barely existed 20 years ago – is increasing dramatically. By 2008 the number of cell phone users around the world is projected to reach some two billion. Leading cell phone manufacturers are collaborating through the Basel Convention’s Mobil Phone Partnership Initiative to find better ways to reduce and manage this growing waste stream.

Governments are working through the Basel Convention to develop partnerships with industry, the public sector and civil society aimed at reducing hazardous wastes at source and promoting recycling and re-use. They are also taking advantage of the Convention’s expanding series of technical guidelines for the environmentally sound management of specific kinds of wastes. The Nairobi meeting will consider adopting three new sets of such guidelines for the environmentally sound management of certain persistent organic pollutants (POPs). Many of these pollutants are amongst the most hazardous substances known to humanity. Guidelines on POPs wastes and on PCBs were finalized in 2004. The new guidelines focus specifically on DDT, on other obsolete pesticides, and on dioxins and furans.

Another agenda item concerns the dismantling of obsolete ships. The International Maritime Organization (IMO), which has launched negotiations on a legally binding agreement that would clarify the legal requirements for scrapping obsolete ships. However, governments recognize that the Basel Convention also has a clear role to play in this issue.

The meeting also comes at the same time the UNEP has called on international financial assistance to be swiftly mobilized to pay for the clean up and rehabilitation of contaminated sites in Côte D’Ivoire as a result of new information indicating that the final costs of a dumping incident in August could reach into the millions of dollars. The Côte D’Ivoire case resulted when a ship sailing from Europe dumped wastes in the West African country. UNEP officials said urgent assistance to meet Côte D’Ivoire’s costs which they said is in the spotlight but emphasized that this was by no means a unique case.

Access a release from UNEP (
click here). Access the Basel Convention November 2006 Bulletin (click here). Access the Basel Convention website (click here). Access the COP8 website (click here). Access the COP8 meeting documents (click here). Access daily coverage of the COP8 meeting from Earth Negotiations Bulletin (ENB), published by the International Institute for Sustainable Development (IISD) (click here). Access a release and links to further information on the Côte D’Ivoire case (click here). [*Haz, *Toxics]