Welcome to the BAN & e-Stewards Blog – Report from Cartagena

Cartagena de Indias, Colombia, the old city, site of Basel Convention's 10th Conference of Parties. Copyright BAN 2011.

At long last BAN is launching its first blog and we are glad you are here!  The purpose of this blog is to engage you and other readers in a conversation about responsible waste recycling and trade.  It will revolve around BAN’s three central campaigns:  Responsible Electronic Waste Stewardship, Responsible Ship Recycling, and Implementation of the Basel Convention – a treaty designed to control hazardous waste trade and disposal from which BAN takes its name.

Here you will be finding contributions from all of BAN’s staff as well as guest contributions (that means you!), as well as comments and interchange from you all.  The blog pieces will include entries that are educational, newsy, and of course opinionated   Let’s dig in shall we?

Last week I made a pilgrimage to the Basel Convention’s 10th Conference of the Parties which was held in Cartagena, Colombia.    It was my 11th Conference of Parties meeting of the Basel Convention if you include the meeting when it was adopted in 1989.  That’s right!  I have been making these pilgrimages for 22 years!  One might ask why?  Well It is my belief that the Basel Convention, together with the Basel Ban Amendment (passed in 1995) is a landmark in human development.   It is a beacon of hope that we will as the human team, be able to solve the thorniest issues upon which our survival hinges — such as sustainable consumption, toxic-free products and production, waste prevention, internalization of all social and environmental costs, finding mechanisms  for sustainable and equitable globalization, the nexus between social and environmental concerns.   All of these issues and more, are confronted head-on in and in-between the lines of text of the Basel Convention and the Basel Ban Amendment.

Plenary of Basel Convention Conference of Parties from NGO section. Copyright BAN 2011.

The international trade in hazardous waste, which the Basel Convention confronts, is a phenomenon that is at the crux of today’s critical questions having to do with our very survival.  Why do we have to use toxic materials that become toxic waste?  Why does this waste move to developing countries and the global commons?   Why do we have to create so much waste?  Is waste generation invariably linked to economic growth?  Is the choice between poverty and poison an inevitable one?   Is exploiting global inequity and cheap labor sustainable?

And of course the issue has become very real to all of us now that the electronic products we all use, are, at the end of their life traded as toxic waste.  This is not some far-off issue regarding pollution from factories, this is OUR toxic waste that came to us first in the form of really cool computers, phones, and music players.   These questions are our questions.

At the 10th Basel meeting in Cartagena, some big issues were laid on the table and I am thrilled that the Parties responded loudly to the concerns raised by developing countries, BAN and other environmental organizations.   The Basel Ban Amendment, an unabashed trade barrier erected for the greater environmental and social good, banning exports of toxic wastes from richer to poorer countries received a stunning endorsement as it was allowed by decision to go into force in the next few years.  It was decided that it needs but 17 more ratifications.   Countries that had been blocking this decision including Japan, Canada, Australia, and India all agreed to stand down and let the ban be realized.   Very significant also was the Russian Federation and China’s loud and unequivocal support for the ban.   It was an historic moment.

In another major development, the assembled nations disagreed over whether the IMO’s Hong Kong Convention on ship recycling provided an equivalent level of control to that of the Basel Convention.  The decision was vital as shipping industry forces and governments that carry their water were seeking permission to pull ships out of the Basel Convention and utilize the far weaker regime found in the Hong Kong Convention.

Jim in a bus flying along the Colombian coast. Copyright BAN 2011.

Further, the question of the Convention’s role in promoting waste minimization was spotlighted by the Cartagena Declaration which asserted in no uncertain terms that waste avoidance in both quantity and in hazard potential was the future of the Convention.   The strong rhetoric of the Declaration was also reflected in the new Strategic Framework. All in all — a very exciting week full of renewed hope and opportunity in which every one of BAN’s objectives was fulfilled and endorsed by a majority of the hundreds of delegates representing the 178 member countries.

I write this first blog piece on a bumpy mini-bus traveling the coast of Colombia on my way from Cartagena to Tayrona National Park – which is a coastal stretch of paradise for a day of R and R.   The tropical air is thick but clear, the clouds billow bright against a blue sky and the jungle on both sides of this long road is as green as it could ever be.   For now, signing off….but if you like this new dialogue please retweet and notify your friends and colleagues….

Me, satisfied and tickled too,