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Steiner on E-Waste & Cote D’Ivoire Crisis at Basel COP Opening

Speech by Achim Steiner, UN Under-Secretary General and Executive Director of the UN Environment Programme (UNEP) to the Opening of the 8th Conference of the Parties to the Basel Convention

Nairobi, 27 November 2006 –Honourable Ministers, HE Mariano Arana, President of COP 7 and Minister of the Environment of Uruguay; the executive secretary of the Basel convention Mrs. Sachiko Kuwabara-Yamamoto, distinguished delegates, ladies and gentleman, friends and colleagues.

This week’s meeting will address many issues not least the rising tide of electronic or e-waste, but it would be impossible for me not to refer to the tragic events in Cote D’Ivoire.

This case of irresponsible hazardous waste dumping in one of the poorest countries on the globe serves as a reminder of the importance of the Basel Convention and the need to re-invigorate and re-new its vital regional and global role.

It also serves as a reminder that even the best laws are only as strong as the enforcement mechanisms and willingness of governments to act.

Ladies and gentlemen, the need for Basel is ever more evident in this globalized world and not just because of Cote D’Ivoire.

Accelerating trade in goods and materials across borders and across Continents is one of the defining features of the early 21st century.

Another is the globalized phenomenon of consumerism and what one might called ‘built in obsolescence”—the relative cheapness of high technology products like mobile phones and computers—the way fashion is driving the purchasing and discarding of products in a way unknown a generation ago.

Consumerism is driving economies but also drives a growing mountain of E-waste not only from North to the South but South South—waste with a wide range of pollutants from heavy metals to chlorine compounds.

Waste that challenges our use of finite natural resources and our ability to meet international agreed development targets like the Millennium Development Goals—for it is the most vulnerable who bear the brunt of this pollution.

This morning I was shown an article in the respected journal Environmental Health Perspectives entitled Unfair Trade: E-waste in Africa.

The article was based on investigations by the Basel Action Network whose work contributes to the Basel Convention process.

It concludes that a minimum of 100,000 computers a month are entering the Nigerian port of Lagos alone.

If these were good quality, second hand, pieces of equipment this would perhaps be a positive trade of importance for development.

But local experts estimate that between a quarter to 75 per cent of these items including old TVs, CPUs and phones are defunct—in other words E-waste, in other words long distance dumping from developed country consumers and companies to an African rubbish tip or landfill.

A recent State of the Marine Environment report by UNEP’s Global Programme of Action on reducing land based sources of pollution to the marine environment is also telling.

It highlights increasing levels of contamination of Asia’s coastal waters with pollutants linked with E-waste.

One of the great challenges of our time is to collectively agree on what is waste and what are second-hand products—this question extends to end-of-life ships as much as to electronic goods.

Unless we get to grips with this, we are always going to be like the proverbial dog chasing its tail.

Some progress in the areas of electronics is being made and I congratulate the Basel Secretariat and responsible members of industry for the Mobile Phone Partnership Initiative.

This public private partnership has produced guidelines for the environmentally sound management of used or end-of-life mobiles covering their entire life cycle and is now set to launch pilots including ones in Asia.

There is a lot that can be done like take back schemes, recycling projects and certification of exports showing them as functioning equipment.

Some mobile phone firms are also now refurbishing of old phones and selling them to developing countries at reasonable prices and with guarantees.

These kinds of partnerships are important steps forward. But we know there is a lot more than needs to be done.

Compliance and enforcement of legislation must be supported by capacity building and technology transfer to developing countries—in this respect UNEP has a new mechanism known as the Bali Strategic Plan.

I would urge developing countries to put forward requests for assistance in the area of hazardous waste and waste handling, alongside other areas, under the Plan.

In ten minutes, it is impossible to cover all the bases. Let me touch on a remaining few of significance to me.

Earlier this month the High Level Panel report on UN Reform was published and is now being considered by the UN Secretary-General.

We are now requested to streamline our work and bring greater coherence—I am engaging all the chemical and waste conventions in pursuit of these goals.

These conventions can be and must be mutually supportive--Persistent Organic Pollutants fall under the Stockholm Convention but equally under the Convention on waste.

We also need clear lines of responsibility and clear focus under the new Strategic Approach on International Chemicals Management in order to achieve the World Summit on Sustainable Development’s chemical-related aims.

My reform agenda for UNEP is, and will, continue to extend to the other multilateral environmental and regional agreements so we can achieve harmony and clear direction in support of sustainable development.

UN Reform also requires UN agencies to work together, to play to their strengths and maximize each one’s ‘value added’.

UNEP and UNDP are already walking down this path via our Poverty and Environment Initiative and a new partnership on capacity building for the clean development mechanism and adaptation under the Kyoto Protocol

It is no secret that the Basel regional centres have not flourished as far as had been originally hoped, partly for lack of sustainable and predictable support for their operation.

Later this week I am addressing the board of the UN Industrial and Development Organization (UNIDO).

One issue I will raise is how Basel and UNIDO might cooperate and utilize the existing Basel Convention regional centers and UNIDO’s cleaner production centre infrastructure in common cause.

Ladies and gentlemen, hazardous waste—waste generally-- is a global problem and a real challenge to environmental and economic sustainability. Basel is among the world’s first multilateral environmental agreements.

We live in a new world where new thinking is urgently needed.

Europe once talked about the ‘cradle to grave’ approach for handling consumer goods. But we know that we have to look beyond this.

Japan is pioneering the 3R’s—reduce, re-use and recycle.

China is pioneering the Circular Economy—a concept that at its centre hold that nothing is waste, everything is a raw material for another process be it the by-products of a chemical factory or the heat from a power station.

These are all rivers flowing into the same sea—rivers down which this Convention now and over the coming years should and must sail.

I sincerely hope that the tragedy in Cote D’Ivoire and the challenges of E-waste will serve as a wake up call to the Parties of the Basel Convention and other related treaties.

The failings in Cote D’Ivoire underscores the need for the international environmental and development community to echo to the High Level Panel’s conclusions by focusing and intelligently deploying the legal and other instruments at our disposal.

The case also requires us to review where gaps exist—for example between Basel and MARPOL-- and use our collective intelligence and creativity to bridge those divides and close those loopholes.

I hope this can begin here in Nairobi this week at the 8th Conference of the Parties.

We must also urgently consider here this week how to bring the Liability and Compensation Protocol into force and put sufficient resources into the Convention’s emergency fund--$270,000 is simply too little to meet the global challenge.

Ladies and gentlemen, you have a busy week. The future will be busy too.

There are many more issues looming on the horizon including end-of-life ships and their disposal and what about cars and aircraft?

The growth in international air travel has consequences for the climate, but also has consequences in terms of the safe and environmentally sound disposal of the thousands (an estimated 35,000 by 2035) of planes that, over the coming decades, will be scrapped.

We have this instrument called Basel. Let us support it practically, politically and financially to achieve its full potential in our common pursuit of overcoming poverty and achieving sustainability on this wonderful planet Earth.

On behalf of the UN Secretary-General and UNEP, I would like to thank the Government of Kenya and HE Minister Kibwana for hosting yet another COP so shortly after the Climate Change Convention talks.

Thank You




Further Resources

Basel COP 8 on the Control of Transboundary Movements of Hazardous Wastes
Official Website

ENB Coverage of COP 8

Basel Conference Addresses Electronic Wastes Challenge
UNEP Press Release

Basel Convention

Liability for Côte D’Ivoire Hazardous Waste Clean-Up
UNEP Press Release

UNEP Responds to Abidjan Hazardous Waste Crisis
UNEP Press Release

Côte d’Ivoire Seeks Assistance to Mitigate Toxic Waste Crisis
UNEP Press Release

Launch of Pilot on Transboundary Movement of End-of-Life Mobile Phones in S. East Asia
Press Advisory

UNEP Resources on E - Waste

UNEP Chemicals


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