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Speech by Achim Steiner at the Opening of the Ninth Meeting of the Conference of the Parties to the Basel Convention on the Control of Transboundary Movements of Hazardous Wastes

Bali, 26 June 2008

Ladies and gentlemen,

Before I start let me share a few figures with you.

164 million and 16 million-roughly the number of computers in the United States and China today.

One billion-the size of the Personal Computer market globally.

And two billion-the size forecast for 2015.

The vast majority of this growth will be in developing countries such as China, India and Brazil-12 per cent growth a year.

Two billion-the number of mobile phone subscribers estimated in 2008.

In some countries, Luxembourg for example, there are already more mobile phones than people.

The same can be said of TVs-Bermuda has more sets than people closely followed by Monaco; the United States and Malta.

40 million-the global microwave cooker market.

72 per cent-the annual growth rate of industrial ink-jet printers in Asia over the next four years.

And there are other figures.

18 months-the average replacement life of a mobile phone in Australia for example.

20 million-the estimated number of mobiles thrown away in China each year.

4 million-the annual number of mobiles bought to replace handsets in the UK which are often only 12 months old.

Ladies and gentlemen,

20 years ago when the Basel Convention was born, these kinds of statistics simply did not exist.

ICT-a Force for Good

The information and communications technology revolution was in its infancy.

We should welcome many of these developments and encourage their take up across the world.

Mobile phones and the Internet can be transformational in terms of a delivering a knowledge based society and in generating new ways of doing business and overcoming infrastructure and distance-to-learning hurdles.

In doing so it has an important role to play in fighting poverty and in achieving the Millennium Development Goals by 2015.

ICT may also have an important role to play in the climate change challenge.

ICT and Climate Change

A new report by the Global e-Sustainability Initiative, supported by UNEP, and The Climate Group estimates that ICT could cut greenhouse gas emissions by 15 per cent globally by 2020.

Firstly by contributing to energy efficiency in buildings up to the automobile industry and also by what is known as dematerialization(or substitution)of existing physical goods and processes.

Managing the Downside

But as the figures I started with show, the rapid growth and also rapid redundancy of all this equipment also represents a major challenge to the international community in terms of human health and the environment.

An estimated 20 million to 50 million tonnes of electronics waste is now generated annually which, according to one estimated if loaded on railway trucks would produce a train that would stretch once around the world.

The growth in electronics is unlikely to abate any time soon, especially as disposable incomes rise in the rapidly developing and developing economies.

Thus it represents a major challenge now to the work of UNEP; the Basel Convention and the wider chemicals and wastes agenda and an increasing one for the future.

Ladies and gentlemen,

There are Achievements

There are reasons for optimism.

Many developed countries have established take-back; refurbishment and recycling schemes and in turn are generating profits and new kinds of green jobs.

Similar developments are also occurring in many developing countries including as a result of partnerships initiated under the Basel Convention.

I am pleased to see that this ninth meeting of the Parties is taking forward the Nairobi declaration on the environmentally sound management of electronic and electrical wastes via the Partnership for Action on Computing Equipment.

The detailed work plan is expected to include developing guidelines and orchestrating activities in the areas of environmentally-sound refurbishment and repair of electronic equipment including criteria for testing, certification and labelling.

Other elements can include promoting recycling and materials recovery in support of the Millennium Development Goals and in partnership with others.

Meanwhile there is also pressure from NGOs, and thus more consumer awareness emerging.

For example from Greenpeace's Guide to Greener Electronics but also from the publicity generated from meetings and reports produced by the Basel Convention itself and supporting organizations like the Basel Action Network.

Indeed the focus on e-waste at the last Basel convention meeting in Nairobi in 2006 generated a great deal of renewed and new media interest from developed but also many developing country journalists especially in India and many African countries.

Cote D'Ivoire

Here I would also like to congratulate the parties to the Basel Convention for sending a clear and unequivocal message that the international community will no longer tolerate the kind of toxic waste dumping that occurred in Cote D'Ivoire and which also captured our attention in 2006.

I believe the pressure applied by governments, under Basel and with the support of UNEP, played an important part in securing an out of court settlement.

I am pleased to also announce that earlier this month UNEP, working through the Basel Convention Regional Centre and with support from the governments of the Netherlands, Sweden and Denmark, launched a project to implement a hazardous waste management plan for Abidjan.

This is to be replicated in French-speaking countries in the region as one response to minimize the chances of a Probo Koala-type incident happening again.

But the Response is Not Matching the Magnitude of the Challenge

Nevertheless, we know that achieving the full, original aims behind the establishment of the Basel Convention?to protect human health and the environment against the serious effects of mismanagement of hazardous and other wastes-remains a moving target.

Ever more electronic waste is being produced and far too much is still ending up in landfills-and thus leaking chemicals and heavy metals into the wider environment-as a result of sometimes apparently legal and illegal shipments from developed to developing economies in Africa and Asia.

In 2006 the spotlight fell on shipments of e-waste in Lagos, Nigeria.

Shortly afterwards evidence emerged of similar shipments coming into East Africa through the Kenyan port of Mombassa with some ending up in the Dandora dump site in Nairobi.

Some of the shipments contain usable electronics but often they can be mixed with a great deal of dud and even obsolete equipment including items such as old Commodore games consuls.

This is effectively long distance dumping.

Way Forward

Ladies and gentlemen, this COP9 needs to be in part a time for reflection on how we can move forward-a time to begin stock taking.

Reflection on the relevance of the Basel Convention in its current configuration and funding not just in terms of e-waste but in terms of the wide-range of persistent and emerging waste challenges the world faces.

Reflection too on what Basel could have done better perhaps with more support and resources from you as member states.

Reflection as well on where governments wish to now take this instrument and its aims and objectives in a new century.

Outstanding Issues

I think it was a sound decision by the Secretariat to focus this meeting on its core raison d'etre-Human Health and Livelihoods and to make a world forum part of this meeting.

Important too and also courageous to try and bring forward debate on how to perhaps move forward on resolving the long standing and often fraught discussions surrounding the Ban Amendment-and how this amendment might look and operate in a world of commerce, trade and technological possibilities so different to when it was originally conceived.

Not least as a result of the emerging phenomenon of South-South trade but also South North trade which is now a feature of a rapidly re-shaping of the world economy.

This reflection can begin here and may require a little more time than we have at COP 9 or even COP 10.

But I believe we can start the ball rolling and indeed kick start some elements before leaving Bali this week.

One UN-Chemicals and Waste Cooperation

Ladies and gentlemen,

UNEP is currently developing a waste strategy as part of our mandate on sustainable consumption and production-such a strategy, which will be discussed at our next Governing Council, is long overdue.

Long overdue too is a need to realize a more streamlined and efficient governance of the multilateral environmental structures inherited in large part from another century.

Before you here in Bali are the proposals of the Ad Hoc Joint Working Group on cooperation and coordination between the Basel, Rotterdam and Stockholm chemicals conventions.

The same proposals, covering such issues as joint decision-making and joint administration and legal services up to simultaneous meetings back to back with the UNEP Governing Council, are being placed before each of the Conventions COPs.

You may understand that I attach great personal importance to this process within the context of improved delivery and effectiveness of the chemicals and waste agenda-in the context of demonstrating to member states the value added of looking at closer cooperation between other related conventions too.

Ladies and gentlemen,

There is one area of the chemicals and waste agenda to which I attach great and urgent importance.

And one which echoes both to the essence of this meeting as it relates to human health and livelihoods and the MDGs.

And to the benefits that can be harvested by closer operational ties between the three conventions-that is the issue of mercury.

Thus I am pleased to announce today that UNEP, in response to a Governing Council decision, has developed a mercury 'umbrella' partnership that brings together governments, non governmental organizations and industry.

As I am sure you are aware, mercury is a highly toxic element that cannot be destroyed by incineration of other methods.

Mercury wastes need to be stored, safely and forever.

UNEP's chemicals unit and the Secretariat of the Basel Convention have cooperated closely and effectively to develop draft mercury waste technical guidelines.

Today I can also announce that, as part of the new partnership and as a result in part of the availability of these jointly developed guidelines between the conventions, UNEP is launching a 1 million US$ initiative on mercury waste.

This will build capacity, in line with the Bali Strategic Plan on Technology Support and Capacity Building, to limit mercury finding its way back into the market from the waste stream.

The project is open for further financial and technical support, will build mercury storage capacity in Asia and South America as well as support very important on-going, collaborative efforts to move away from primary mercury mining globally.

I am sure that this new initiative will underline UNEP's determination to tackle mercury and the global waste challenge generally through partnerships but also through a UN system that is practically demonstrating that delivering as one means a problem shared is a problem halved.

Thank you




Further Resources

The ninth meeting of the Conference of the Parties (COP9)


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