Interview: COP President explores implementation of the Basel Convention

The Country-Led Initiative: How Parties come together to implement the Basel Convention (BC)

Interview between Andrzej Jagusiewicz, President of the Basel Convention 2015 COP12 (Warsaw, Poland) and Charlie Avis, BRS Secretariat Public Information Officer

Charlie Avis: Good morning, Andrzej, thank you for sharing your thoughts with us today. The Basel Convention aims to protect human health and the environment, as do the other two chemicals and waste conventions, Rotterdam and Stockholm. Where does the Basel Convention fit, within the broader global environment and development landscape and the move towards “Sustainable Development Goals”?

Andrzej Jagusiewicz:  Thank you. It’s quite obvious that if you have products you will have wastes, which may also be hazardous. Today some countries are self-sufficient in managing these wastes, although unfortunately many others have not got the necessary infrastructure to manage them in an environmentally sound manner. These are the driving forces for the global trade of hazardous wastes, where the Basel Convention can be seen not only as a kind of market regulator, but also as a powerful instrument to develop and support trade with due respect to human health and the environment.  Therefore implementation of the Basel Convention requires a lot of effort to build capacity, exchange good practices and raise awareness, with improved technical assistance and available funding the Basel Convention can make our world safer and healthier.  
There are more and more chemicals in the world, but their production, export/import and use must strictly follow the international laws, regulations and guidelines in line with the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). To me this means that chemical/waste security and safety must be a priority on the global UN agenda, while increased use of chemicals worldwide must be undertaken in a manner that ensures that ecosystems remain healthy and our well-being is preserved. With respect to the latter, I would expect rapid progress to reinforce the inclusion of chemicals and waste in the Sustainable Development Goals indicators. 
CA:  What is the Basel “Country-Led Initiative” (CLI) and what does it aim to achieve?

AJ:  CLI is a very important initiative of the Governments of Indonesia and Switzerland. The follow up to this initiative currently focuses on three goals: addressing the entry into force of the Ban Amendment, developing guidelines for environmentally sound management of wastes, and finally providing further legal clarity. The Ban Amendment is a crucial addition to the Basel Convention, as it aims to strengthen the objective of guaranteeing that wastes are only exported to parties that have the capacity to ensure their environmentally sound management. Its ratification and entry into force is also strongly related to the SDGs. From the beginning of my presidency, the ratification of the Ban Amendment has been my priority as a continuation of the outstanding efforts of my predecessor. A lot has been done, but still we are lacking several ratifications for entry into force of the Amendment. Let’s hope these will occur sooner rather than later.  Concerning ESM guidelines it’s quite clear that they are very important to capacity-building efforts for developing countries and a need to harmonize approaches towards the management of different hazardous wastes globally. Legal clarity is also necessary for the consistent interpretation of terminology which could be translated into consistent implementation of the Basel Convention. As terminology is being constantly developed together with the glossary of terms under the Basel Convention this goal seems to be a long-term effort. I think it would be beneficial if transboundary shipments of hazardous wastes would be accompanied by relevant ESM guidelines or reference to these, where appropriate. 

CA:  What are the main obstacles to implementing the Basel Convention, in terms of capacities and expertise?

AJ:  I can notice some disparities in providing technical assistance (TA), including proper funding between the UN regions. This was strongly voiced during the BRS regional meeting for the Central and Eastern Europe region (CEE) in Bratislava that I had the privilege to chair recently. So let’s put all UN regions on equal footing provided their needs are well identified and organize TA in a tailor-made and custom-oriented manner. Another obstacle is the lack of proper activities by some of the Basel Convention regional and coordinating centres (BCRCs).  We need to audit BCRCs performance and subsequently either to revitalize underperforming centres or transfer their activities to other BCRCs.   Also I think we need more exchange of good practices between the regions and at interregional level and full availability of all guiding and training documents in all UN languages, including WEBINARs.

CA:  How does the CLI address these constraints?

AJ:  First of all, it has revitalised Parties’ interest in Basel Convention issues, for example the Government of Switzerland is now sponsoring participation of developing countries in various meetings to the extent the others can only envy.  With respect to the CLI, it has helped to organize a series of workshops and information briefings for permanent missions in Geneva on the facilitation of the entry into force of the Ban Amendment.  Parties and other stakeholders have also become very active in trying to solve the last obstacles to get the agreement on e-wastes guidelines and last but not least has sponsored three participants from each of the eligible CEE countries at the regional preparatory meeting for the COPs, which took place in Bratislava. For the first time ever, we had such meetings in all regions well in advance of the COPs meetings. Due to this initiative, the Parties could be informed about the challenges ahead and discuss these informally to come to a common understanding. It has been really great!   
CA:  What are the main issues to be addressed at the upcoming triple COPs, for Basel?
AJ:  To me, this would be to establish a compliance/implementation mechanism under the Rotterdam Convention and the Stockholm Convention, following (why not…) the Basel Convention example. The Basel Convention is much older and more mature, therefore could offer the benefit of its experience. Moreover, if we are building synergies among the three conventions then let us benefit from each other. Another issue would be to resolve longstanding issues and agree on the listing of chemicals under the Rotterdam Convention in order to ensure that science-based evidence drives decision making.  And finally I would be happy if we get the Basel Convention e-waste guidelines adopted. 
CA:  The theme of the 2015 triple COPs is “From science to action: working for a safer tomorrow” – is science key to the Basel Convention and if so, how?

AJ:  Science-based evidence is crucial to drive policies; to make a safer world; and to live in our planet within its limits.  Of course we still take a consensus approach between science and policy within multilateral environmental agreements (MEAs), but let’s use the theme of the 2015 triple COPs and the Science Fair, organized in the margins of the meetings, to inject more science than politics into the decision-making process in the future.  I am sure that the Science Fair will be a memorable event and play important role in understanding the benefits and risks from using the chemicals in today’s world.  

CA:  Finally, will you be travelling to the triple COPs in Geneva in May, and if so, what are your expectations?

AJ:  I expect to have interactive and fruitful triple COPS, as all regions will have already met before and be better prepared than in 2013. Also I think that the regions could speak more with one voice than they did in the past and voice their interest in further developing synergies, including with the Minamata Convention.   

As for myself I will try to do my best and simply survive.   
CA:  Thank you very much for your time.

AJ:  I also thank you for this opportunity to share my views with our web visitors.