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date: 17 January 2018

International Cooperation on Hazardous Substances and Wastes

Summary and Keywords

Various chemicals and heavy metals are released into the environment through industrial and manufacturing processes, agricultural use, the use of industrial and consumer goods, and the mismanagement and dumping of wastes. Such releases can cause major environmental and human health problems, both at the local level and across national borders. International cooperation can be a way of addressing the risks posed by hazardous substances and wastes. States and intergovernmental organizations (IGOs) have engaged in technical collaboration and policy-making on these issues for more than a century. Today, a host of IGOs work on policy-making and management of hazardous substances and wastes, including the International Labor Organization, the Intergovernmental Forum on Chemical Safety, and the Global Environment Facility. Multilateral cooperation on hazardous substances and wastes takes place under three separate treaties: the 1989 Basel Convention on the Control of Transboundary Movements of Hazardous Wastes and Their Disposal, the 1998 Rotterdam Convention on the Prior Informed Consent Procedure for Certain Hazardous Chemicals and Pesticides in International Trade, and the 2001 Stockholm Convention on Persistent Organic Pollutants. A substantial amount of scholarly literature covers numerous issues associated with hazardous substances and wastes, such as multilateral and national waste controls, persistent organic pollutants, and regional environmental policy developments. The case of hazardous substances and wastes can be used to further investigate the characteristics of vertical and horizontal institutional linkages and linkage politics, as well as the diffusion of principles, norms, ideas, and regulatory approaches across multilateral forums and national societies.

Keywords: hazardous chemicals, hazardous wastes, hazardous substances, international cooperation, intergovernmental organizations, International Labor Organization, treaties, persistent organic pollutants, environmental policy, pesticides

Introduction

Multilateral cooperation on hazardous substances and wastes has been subject to limited analysis compared to many other environmental regimes, despite the fact that states and intergovernmental organizations (IGOs) have engaged in technical collaboration and policy-making on these issues for over a century. As a result, there are compelling empirical and analytical reasons for international relations scholars to pay more attention to the politics and management of hazardous substances and wastes. One of the first international legal instruments addressing dangerous substances was the St. Petersburg Declaration adopted in 1868. This agreement, signed by several leading powers at the time including Austria–Hungary, France, Russia, Persia, Prussia, and the United Kingdom, banned the use of “fulminating or inflammable substances” in military projectiles weighing less than 400 grams (Shaw 1983). The St. Petersburg Declaration, however, is primarily part of humanitarian law, rather than addressing environmental and human health aspects associated with hazardous substances.

After World War I, the International Labour Organization (ILO) started working on the management of harmful substances. In 1919, its first year of existence, ILO issued several nonbinding recommendations on the importance of reducing workers’ exposure to, for example, lead and white phosphorus. More comprehensive international legal, political, and scientific action on environmental and human health issues of hazardous substances began in the 1960s. Contemporary international law and management efforts designed to mitigate environmental and human health problems of hazardous substances and wastes consist of several separate treaties and programs administered by a host of IGOs. Even if these legal and political instruments are formally independent, they are functionally dependent as they cover overlapping parts of the life cycle of the production, use, trade, and disposal of a small set of hazardous substances and wastes as well as emissions of harmful by-products of production and combustion processes (Krueger and Selin 2002; Downie et al. 2005; Selin 2010).

Over time, states have formulated several policy and management goals. Among the more recent ones, governments at the World Summit on Sustainable Development (WSSD), held in Johannesburg in 2002, stressed the importance of sustainable consumption and production and set the goal to “prevent and minimize waste and maximize reuse, recycling and use of environmentally friendly alternative materials” (WSSD 2002: paragraph 22). They also stressed the need to “promote reduction of the risks posed by heavy metals that are harmful to human health and the environment” and agreed that chemicals world-wide should be “used and produced in ways that lead to the minimization of significant adverse effects on human health and the environment” no later than the year 2020 (WSSD 2002: paragraph 23). The Strategic Approach to International Chemicals Management (SAICM), adopted by states in 2006, reconfirms these goals and contains a plan of action for their fulfillment by coordinating management activities across several treaties and programs.

Modern societies use a multitude of chemicals and heavy metals that are released into the environment through industrial and manufacturing processes, agricultural use, the use of industrial and consumer goods, and the mismanagement and dumping of wastes. Such releases can cause major localized problems. Studies of production and use patterns also demonstrate that many management and pollution issues are fundamentally transnational (Geiser 2001; Krueger and Selin 2002; Selin 2010). There is, for example, a close connection between environmental and human health risks and the trade in hazardous substances and wastes. Emissions of many dangerous substances are furthermore transported across national borders. International cooperation can also be a way of increasing awareness and acting as catalysts for the diffusion of financial and technical resources supporting regional and national regulatory and management actions. As such, there are many political and management issues associated with hazardous substances and wastes worthy of continuing attention by international studies scholars.

This essay focuses on multilateral cooperation on and studies of the politics and management of hazardous substances and wastes, which pose both significant local contamination risks and major transboundary pollution problems. The essay begins with an overview of different sets of the international relations literature focusing on the politics and management of hazardous substances and wastes. This is followed by a short description of the kind of environmental and human health risks posed by hazardous substances and wastes. This is continued by an outline of major actors engaged in policy-making and management. Next, the essay draws on insights and arguments from the social science literature to provide a historical perspective on policy and management efforts on hazardous chemicals, heavy metals, and wastes. In doing so, the essay discusses key issues and drivers of policy expansions over time. The essay ends with a brief discussion of some areas where there are opportunities for continuing analysis and empirical research.

Literature on Hazardous Substances and Wastes

Though the natural science and public health literatures extensively cover environmental and human health effects of exposure to harmful substances and wastes, international relations scholars have paid little attention to legal and political efforts to mitigate environmental and human health risks of hazardous substances and wastes. There is, however, a small but growing literature across several fields of the international relations literature on these issues; several of these studies are identified in this section. For example, Selin (2010) analyzes the creation and implementation of the chemicals regime, paying particular attention to issues of policy expansions, institutional linkages, and the design of effective multilevel governance. In addition, a few more narrowly focused institutional-oriented studies examine historical policy developments and regulatory and management linkages across major treaties on hazardous substances and wastes (Krueger and Selin 2002; Pallemaerts 2003; Downie et al. 2005).

A few analysts have focused on policy-making and management roles played by leading IGOs on hazardous substances and wastes. This includes examinations of policy initiatives and management activities by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), the World Health Organization (WHO), and the ILO (Alston 1978; OECD 1985; Lönngren 1992; Asante-Duah and Nagy 1998). A few studies also examine political and economic issues of the international trade in pesticides and pesticide use in developing countries. These studies in part focus on the roles of IGOs such as UNEP and the FAO in developing policy recommendations and management approaches – including principles for integrated pesticide management designed to reduce the use of hazardous pesticides – for improved protection of local handlers and farmers (Boardman 1986; Karlsson 2000; Pallemaerts 2003).

Some scholars have conducted international political economy oriented analyses of the waste trade (O’Neill 2000; Clapp 2001) and the creation of multilateral and national waste controls (Harland 1985; OECD 1985; Boardman 1986; Forester and Skinner 1987; Donald 1992; Kempel 1993; Kummer 1995; Asante-Duah and Nagy 1998; Krueger 1999; Brikell 2000; Sonak et al. 2008). Several of these studies point to growing national waste levels, increasing domestic economic costs for waste management, and the emergence of a not-in-my-back-yard (NIMBY) syndrome in industrialized countries as important reasons for increased exports of wastes including to developing countries. Similarly, there are several legal and political studies on the development of voluntary and legally binding controls on the international trade in commercial substances beginning in the 1980s (Pallemaerts 1988, 2003; Paarlberg 1993; Victor 1998; Kummer 1999; Emory 2001; McDorman 2004). Several of these studies examine actors and drivers of policy expansions within the trade and environment field.

A related set of literature focuses on multilateral action on persistent organic pollutants (POPs) – a sub-category of highly persistent and toxic chemicals that became subject to international attention in the 1990s (Bankes 2003; Downie 2003; Selin 2003; Selin and Eckley 2003). These studies examine efforts to both abate long-range transport of emissions and address local management problems. Local development and environment problems are also examined in the literature on mining and the trade in heavy metals (Bridge 2004). Some studies examine efforts to regulate the commercial use of heavy metals in consumer goods and reduce emissions from industrial process, combustion, and coal-fired power plants (which is a significant source of mercury emissions) (Selin and Selin 2006; Selin and VanDeveer 2006). Another set of literature examines the actions and influence of environmental nongovernmental organizations (NGOs), indigenous peoples’ groups, and the chemicals industry (Garcia-Johnson 2000; Fenge 2003; Watt-Cloutier 2003; Selin and Selin 2008).

Hazardous substances and wastes are furthermore covered in the literature on regional environmental policy developments. This includes studies of policy-making and implementation of regulations under a multitude of marine agreements covering shared rivers, lakes, seas, and coastal areas (Haas 1990; Skjærseth 2001a, 2001b; Pallemaerts 2003; Selin and VanDeveer 2004). Other studies examine related multilateral policy-making on chemicals and heavy metals under regional air agreements, most notably the Convention on Long-Range Transboundary Air Pollution (CLRTAP) (Selin 2003; Selin and Selin 2006, 2008). Some studies focus on drivers of policy expansions on hazardous substances and wastes within the European Union (EU) (Pallemaerts 2003; Pensendorfer 2006; Selin 2007), and these policy developments are related to policy-making outside the EU as well as global politics (Brickman et al. 1985; Selin and VanDeveer 2006; Dreher and Pulver 2008; Renckens 2008; Yang 2008; Carson 2009; Iles 2009; Selin 2009). Several of these studies look at the role of private firms and advocacy groups in shaping debates and policy outcomes.

Some social science researchers have furthermore used global and regional cases of hazardous substance and waste management to explore more cross-cutting themes in international environmental governance. One set of literature focuses on the interplay between science and politics (Selin and Eckley 2003; Selin 2006, 2010), including the influence of epistemic communities (Haas 1990), and the design and use of organized scientific advisory bodies (Kohler 2006). Hazardous substances management has also been subject to analyses of precaution and the precautionary principle as it has been defined and applied in environmental assessments and regulations (Eckley and Selin 2004; Maguire and Ellis 2005). In addition, scholars have stressed the importance of security and justice issues in the context of the international trade in hazardous substances and wastes. Many of these studies focus specifically on relationships and conflicts between industrialized and developing countries (Ives 1985; Emory 2001; Iles 2004; Pellow 2007).

Environmental and Human Health Issues

Chemicals are used to increase yields of cash crops, to protect public health, and to produce countless consumer goods. Worldwide chemicals sales (excluding pharmaceuticals) were worth a1.5 trillion in 2005 (CEFIC 2006:2) and constitute close to 10 percent of global trade (OECD 2001:10). The OECD (2001) furthermore estimates that global output of the chemical industry to meet continuously growing demand will be 85 percent higher in 2020 than in 1995. This reliance on a multitude of chemicals, however, poses significant environmental and human health risks. Demand for heavy metals has also increased dramatically since the beginning of the industrial revolution. This has caused many local contamination problems around mining areas as well as widespread environmental dispersal of hazardous metals that are used in a host of industrial and consumer goods. Mercury emissions are also released from the burning of coal, and atmospheric concentrations of mercury have increased three-fold since the beginning of the industrial revolution (Selin and Selin 2006).

Many problems with hazardous substances are related to their persistence, toxicity, bioaccumulation, and biomagnification. The more persistent a substance is, the longer it remains in the environment before it is biodegraded. Persistence per se is not dangerous, but gives rise for concern if a substance exhibits other undesirable qualities with respect to toxicity, bioaccumulation, and biomagnification. Common concerns about toxic substances include their ability to cause cancer, act as endocrine disrupters, and hinder human development in early developmental stages. Through bioaccumulation, hazardous substances may build up in fatty tissues of organisms over time. Hazardous substances that have bioaccumulated in organisms at a lower trophic level can also be passed up food webs in a process known as biomagnification. As a result, species at the top of food webs (including humans) have higher concentrations of many hazardous substances in their bodies than species lower down the same food web.

The rapid increase in pesticide use that started in the 1940s was partially fueled by the launching of the “green revolution,” which was designed to produce more food for a growing world population through the development and use of new plant varieties. The green revolution also contributed to higher yields together with the design of better irrigation schemes and increased use of nitrogen fertilizers (Linnér 2003). Many of the new high yield plants were, however, highly susceptible to disease and pests, and so required extensive applications of many pesticides. Almost two decades after the beginning of the green revolution, Rachel Carson (1962), in her book Silent Spring, famously argued that the widespread and largely uncontrolled use of DDT (dichlorodiphenyl trichloroethane) and similar newly developed pesticides such as chlordane, endrin, and dieldrin contributed to the extinction of local bird populations in areas of heavy usage. This caused “silent springs” as the birdlife disappeared, and also exposed other animals and humans to significant hazards.

Several high-profile contamination cases gave further rise to concerns (Pallemaerts 2003; Selin 2010). For example, in Minamata, Japan a factory began emitting methylmercury into local waters in the 1930s. In 1956 the name “minamata disease” was given to the neurological damage and disturbances of sensation and movement experienced by locals eating contaminated fish. People in Yusho, Japan in 1968 were poisoned after consuming rice contaminated with high levels of PCBs (polychlorinated biphenyls) that leaked from a faulty heat exchanger. Observed effects included severe skin problems and increased cancer fatalities. In Seveso, Italy, in 1976, the accidental industrial release of dioxins killed many farm animals and thousands of people had to seek medical treatment. The leakage of methyl isocyanate gas from the Union Carbide factory in the Indian city of Bhopal in 1984 killed almost 4000 people and caused disabilities in several thousand others. Approximately three million people are believed to be hospitalized yearly with acute pesticide poisoning, resulting in up to 300,000 deaths (Srinivas Rao et al. 2005).

Increases in hazardous waste generation in many industrialized and developing countries are furthermore causing significant environmental and human health problems resulting from unsafe handling and dumping. Hazardous wastes can, for example, be liquids, solids, contained gases, or sludge. They can be the by-products of manufacturing processes or discarded commercial products. Rising levels of discarded electronics goods (e-wastes) further connect issues of hazardous substances and waste management (UNEP 2005). A multitude of electronic goods contain a host of hazardous chemicals and heavy metals that need to be handled during processes of recycling and disposal. Since the 1990s, growing levels of e-wastes have been shipped from industrialized to developing countries, where their unsafe handling often poses significant environmental and human health risks (Iles 2004). This situation raises critical justice and equity issues (Pellow 2007). Growing consumption in China and other developing countries undergoing rapid industrialization is also resulting in increased domestic generation of e-waste (Yang 2008).

In addition to local environmental and human health problems, emissions of many hazardous substances can travel long distances, predominantly through the atmosphere. Global wind current patterns carry emissions from the tropics toward the poles in what has been described as a series of “grasshopper” movements, in which compounds volatilize and condense with seasonal temperature changes at mid-latitudes as they move toward the polar regions. This causes pollution problems in remote parts of Antarctica and the Arctic, far from any local emission sources (AMAP 2009). Another way in which hazardous chemicals may reach countries where they are not (any longer) in use is through the “circle of poison.” This refers to the process by which a hazardous pesticide that has been banned for use in one country is still lawfully produced and exported, and then returns to the exporting country in the form of residues in imported vegetables, fruits, and other food products (Emory 2001).

Actors in International Policy-Making and Management

A host of IGOs work on policy-making and management of hazardous substances and wastes. The ILO focuses on workers’ safety issues and the OECD develops guidelines for data generation, harmonization, and sharing. The United Nations Institute for Training and Research works with developing countries on domestic management. UNEP oversees a multitude of policy programs and host international meetings and negotiations. The FAO and the WHO work on a multitude of chemicals issues within their respective areas of expertise and collaborate on recommendations for acceptable levels of pesticide residues in foods. The Intergovernmental Forum on Chemical Safety (IFCS) functions as a global forum for debate on chemicals safety issues. The Global Environment Facility funds capacity-building projects. The Inter-Organization Programme for the Sound Management of Chemicals functions as a coordinating mechanism for much international action.

The world’s countries are engaged in much international cooperation on hazardous substances and wastes. Multilateral policy-making, including treaty developments, is typically carried out in close collaboration with leading IGOs. Whereas much policy has been developed in collaborative manner, there have also been significant differences among groups of countries over particular issues. For example, many policies imposing limits on the previously unregulated trade in hazardous wastes and chemicals have been championed by developing countries with much early resistance from leading industrialized countries. Developing and industrialized countries have also repeatedly clashed over issues of financing and capacity-building in the implementation of major treaties. At the same time, northern industrialized countries pioneered early regional policy developments on the transboundary dispersal of POPs in the 1990s, and also supported subsequent global action on POPs.

IGOs and states also frequently engage with a wide range of NGOs on management and policy issues. Influential advocacy groups includes not only large organizations such as the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) and Greenpeace that are active across major environmental issue areas, but also NGOs that focus more specifically on chemicals and waste management issues. Such more issue-specific NGOs include the Basel Action Network and the Pesticide Action Network, which often act as coordinating units for smaller NGOs. In addition, Arctic indigenous groups have been actively involved in the development of international policy on POPs and heavy metals since the 1990s. The many different advocacy groups have energetically supported many policy expansions and engaged in related coalition-building. Finally, industry associations and firms are active participants in the development of international chemcials and waste policy as they attend scientific, technical, and political meetings as observers and lobby state and IGO officials.

Early Policy Efforts

Activities by IGOs, states, and NGOs on hazardous substances and wastes have been guided by a series of international policy and management goals that have been specified and expanded over time (Lönngren 1992). Building on earlier discrete work by the FAO and other organizations, governments at the United Nations Conference on the Human Environment in Stockholm in 1972 adopted the Stockholm Declaration, which stated that discharges of “toxic substances” should not exceed the environment’s capacity to render them harmless to prevent serious or irreversible damage to ecosystems (Principle 6). The Stockholm Declaration further required states to “take all possible steps to prevent pollution of the seas” by substances hazardous to the marine environment and human health (Principle 7). Several of the Stockholm Action Plan’s 109 Recommendations stressed the need for increased domestic action and intensified international cooperation and research on hazardous substances.

The OECD began its work on hazardous substances and wastes in the late 1960s (OECD 1985), recommending that member states cease “nonessential” uses of chemicals, exercise care in pesticide use, and develop less harmful pesticides and alternative means of pest control. The OECD in 1973 moreover urged its members to reduce environmental releases of mercury to the lowest possible levels (Selin and Selin 2006). In the 1970s, several legal instruments incorporating language on hazardous substances from the Stockholm Declaration and Action Plan were finalized. For example, the 1972 International Convention on the Prevention of Marine Pollution by Dumping of Wastes and other Matter and the 1973 International Convention for the Prevention of Pollution from Ships targeted hazardous substances. In addition, several regional policy responses targeting hazardous substances and wastes were established for shared rivers, lakes, and seas as a result of emerging environmental data demonstrating high emissions and contamination levels.

Many regional marine agreements cover pollution issues (UNEP 2002a; Pallemaerts 2003). These treaties address dumping at sea as well as emissions from land-based sources. The Convention for the Prevention of Marine Pollution by Dumping from Ships and Aircraft (the Oslo Convention) and the 1974 Convention for the Prevention of Marine Pollution from Land-Based Sources (the Paris Convention) covering the Northeast Atlantic were adopted in 1972 and 1974, respectively. In 1974, the Baltic Sea countries adopted the Convention on the Protection of the Marine Environment of the Baltic Sea Area, This treaty was updated in 1992 and regulations have been expanded over the years. Some European treaties also regulate emissions into shared rivers. For example, the Convention on the Protection of the Rhine Against Chemical Pollution from 1976 regulates many of the same hazardous chemicals and heavy metals covered by the regional sea agreements. In North America, Canada and the United States signed the Great Lakes Water Quality Agreement in 1972.

Several legal and political initiatives on hazardous substances abatement around shared waters were promoted by the UNEP’s Regional Seas Programme, which was created in the aftermath of the Stockholm Conference in 1974. In 1977 UNEP set up a Regional Seas Programme Activity Centre in Geneva to coordinate the diverse political and technical work carried out under the program, which remains operational. Thirteen different action plans targeting pollution problems involving over 140 countries were adopted between 1975 and 2001. The first one to be adopted was the Mediterranean Action Plan in 1975. Under the 1976 Barcelona Convention for the Protection of the Mediterranean Sea Against Pollution and subsequent policy developments, parties cannot dump hazardous substances at sea and are required to eliminate land-based discharges of hazardous substances into the Mediterranean Sea (Haas 1990; Skjærseth 2001b; Pallemaerts 2003). This program provided a template for many other regional seas plans.

In the 1990s, separate treaties on POPs and heavy metals were created under CLRTAP covering the Russian Federation, all of Europe, and North America. The CLRTAP POPs Protocol was negotiated in response to scientific and political concerns about the long-range transport of POPs to the Arctic (Selin 2003, 2010). Acting as an important forerunner to the Stockholm Convention, the protocol was adopted in 1998 and entered into force in 2003. POPs are divided into three annexes. The production and use of pesticides and industrial chemicals listed in Annex I are banned. Annex II lists pesticides and industrial chemicals for which there are listed use exemptions. POPs by-products, for which there are best available techniques and best environmental practices for controlling emissions, are listed in Annex III. 16 POPs were originally regulated by the CLRTAP POPs Protocol, which contains a mechanism for assessing additional chemicals. By 2009, 12 more chemicals were undergoing evaluation. It is likely that these and other chemicals will be regulated by the CLRTAP POPs protocol in the future.

The CLRTAP Heavy Metals Protocol was also born out of Arctic concerns with long-range transport as the CLRTAP parties worked concurrently on POPs and heavy metals. Like the POPs Protocol, the CLRTAP Heavy Metals Protocol was adopted in 1998 and entered into force in 2003. The protocol states that measures to control heavy metal pollution benefit the Arctic environment. Parties must reduce emissions of lead, cadmium, and mercury from industrial sources, combustion processes and waste incineration to 1990 levels. The protocol sets limit values for emissions from stationary sources, requiring the application of best available techniques. It requires parties to phase out leaded petrol, and introduces measures to lower heavy metal emissions, including mercury, from products such as batteries, thermostats, switches, thermometers, fluorescent lamps, dental amalgam, pesticides, and paint. Furthermore, the CLRTAP Heavy Metals Protocol will likely shape the negotiations of the global mercury treaty that was approved by the UNEP Governing Council in 2009, with a target date for 2013.

Expansion of Global Treaty-Making

Early multilateral policy on hazardous substances and wastes was often limited to specific regions. It was not until the 1980s that states began to develop more comprehensive international law and regulations. Much cooperation takes place under three separate treaties covering overlapping life cycle issues and sets of chemicals: the 1989 Basel Convention on the Control of Transboundary Movements of Hazardous Wastes and Their Disposal focuses on the generation and international movement of hazardous wastes; the 1998 Rotterdam Convention on the Prior Informed Consent Procedure for Certain Hazardous Chemicals and Pesticides in International Trade regulates the international trade in hazardous substances; and the 2001 Stockholm Convention on Persistent Organic Pollutants covers the production, use, trade, disposal, and emissions of POPs. SAICM operates as an umbrella structure for coordinating policy and management efforts across these and other agreements and programs.

The Basel Convention on the Control of Transboundary Movements of Hazardous Wastes and Their Disposal

The first of the three global treaties that was created was the Basel Convention targeting the generation and trade in hazardous wastes. Hazardous waste levels have increased sharply since the 1950s. Industrialized, high-consumption countries generate the vast majority of hazardous waste and most waste trade takes place between industrialized countries. However, it was the growing North–South waste trade between industrialized and developing countries that inspired development of the Basel Convention. Several high-profile cases of firms located in industrialized countries illegally dumping hazardous wastes in developing countries in the 1980s drew increased attention to hazardous wastes issues. Many of these cases involved banned and discarded hazardous substances, and waste products containing high levels of many hazardous substances (Krueger 1999; O’Neill 2000; Clapp 2001).

In response to growing concerns about these North-South issues, UNEP took the lead in developing a set of guidelines for managing the international trade in hazardous wastes. In 1982, the UNEP Governing Council created a working group to develop international policy recommendations on the improved management of hazardous wastes for the purpose of better human health and environmental protection. The group’s 1985 report led to approval of the Cairo Guidelines and Principles for the Environmentally Sound Management of Hazardous Wastes by the UNEP Governing Council in 1987, the first global standards on the transnational transport of hazardous wastes. These standards, which were voluntary, introduced a prior informed consent (PIC) procedure for transnational transport of hazardous wastes. This procedure of prior notification and consent before a transport of hazardous wastes could take place drew directly on parallel policy efforts within the OECD (OECD 1985; Lönngren 1992; Asante-Duah and Nagy 1998).

Many developing countries, a few Nordic countries, and environmental advocacy groups, however, believed that a voluntary system of prior notification was not strong enough. In response, the UNEP Governing Council also decided in June 1987 to convene negotiations on a legally binding agreement (Brikell 2000). During the treaty negotiations, developing countries and environmental NGOs such as Greenpeace played critical political roles as they vocally advocated for a complete ban on transferring hazardous wastes across national boundaries. This bloc of pro-ban members argued that such a ban would be the only way to stop the North’s “toxic imperialism.” In contrast, most industrialized countries and industry organizations preferred a prior informed consent procedure similar to the one in the Cairo Guidelines. They argued that a continued but regulated waste trade was economically desirable and would also allow for environmentally safe disposal in facilities that may be located in other countries (Kempel 1993).

In the end, the coalition of ban proponents could not convince their opponents. As a result, the Basel Convention that was adopted in March 1989 seeks to protect human health and the environment by establishing two general objectives that stop short of a trade ban: (i) minimizing the overall generation of hazardous wastes, and (ii) controlling and reducing their transboundary movement. The Basel Convention prohibits the export of hazardous wastes to Antarctica and to parties that have taken domestic measures to ban such imports. Waste transfers to other parties are subject to a mandatory PIC procedure; a firm in one party cannot export hazardous wastes to a firm in another party without first receiving explicit consent of the importing state to proceed with the transfer. Similarly, waste exports to nonparties are prohibited unless they are subject to an agreement between the exporter and importer that is at least as stringent as the requirements under the Basel Convention.

The international trade in old or discarded chemicals and heavy metals is subject to controls by the Basel Convention if they can be categorized as hazardous wastes under convention definitions. Wastes may be designated as hazardous under the Basel Convention if they come from certain waste streams (e.g., wood-preserving chemicals and organic solvents), belong to certain categories (e.g., mercury compounds and copper compounds), or exhibit certain characteristics (e.g., are poisonous, toxic, or corrosive). The Basel Convention relies on domestic legislation to define “waste,” which are substances or objects that are, are intended to be, or are required to be disposed of by national law. The Convention defines “disposal” both as final destruction and as actions that result in “resource recovery, recycling, reclamation, direct re-use or alternative uses.” Thus, to recycle and reuse something, in the terms of the Basel Convention, is also to dispose of it.

Bitterly disappointed with the lack of a North–South trade ban under the Basel Convention, African countries came together and quickly negotiated the Convention on the Ban of the Import into Africa and the Control of Transboundary Movements and Management of Hazardous Wastes within Africa, known as the Bamako Convention (Donald 1992; Kummer 1995; Brikell 2000). The Bamako Convention, which was adopted in 1991, seeks to prevent dumping of additional hazardous wastes in Africa by banning the import of hazardous wastes from any outside country. In addition, substances are subject to regulation if they have been declared hazardous and banned or if registration has been refused or canceled by the country of manufacture or by the country of import and transit. The Bamako Convention also calls for reducing the generation of hazardous wastes to a minimum in terms of quantity and/or hazard potential, and to ensure proper domestic disposal of hazardous waste.

Other regional measures initiated by developing countries included the inclusion of hazardous waste provisions in the Lomé IV Convention of 1991. This treaty bans the trade in hazardous wastes between members of the European Community and former colonies in Asia, the Caribbean, and the Pacific (Kummer 1995; Brikell 2000). The 1996 Protocol on the Transboundary Transport of Hazardous Wastes under the Barcelona Convention requires countries around the Mediterranean Sea to take “all appropriate measures to prevent, abate and eliminate” pollution which can be caused by transboundary movements and disposal of hazardous wastes. Countries also have an obligation to “reduce to a minimum” and “where possible eliminate” the transboundary movement of hazardous wastes in the Mediterranean Sea. The 1995 Waigani Convention bans the import of hazardous and radioactive wastes to the Island countries in the South Pacific region.

The issue of a global North–South ban, however, did not disappear from the political agenda, and the strong criticism that was voiced against the Basel Convention by most developing countries, a small group of industrialized countries, and environmental NGOs influenced much subsequent policy-making. At the first conference of the parties (COP) after the Basel Convention entered into force in 1992, mainly African and Nordic countries, together with Greenpeace and other environmental advocacy groups, reiterated many of their earlier demands for a North–South trade ban (Kummer 1995; Krueger 1999; Brikell 2000). However, the pro-ban coalition was still unable to convince the major industrialized countries (that were also among the largest waste traders) to accept such a trade ban. Yet, their efforts resulted in the adoption of Decision I/22, which requested that industrialized countries refrain from exporting hazardous wastes to developing countries for disposal.

At COP-2, in 1994, the pro-ban coalition gained another small victory with adoption of Decision II/12. This decision placed two limitations on exports of wastes from OECD countries to non-OECD countries. It immediately banned the export of hazardous wastes for final disposal, and banned the export of hazardous wastes intended for recycling by the end of 1997. However, Decision II/12 was not formally incorporated into the Basel Convention. The pro-ban coalition convinced the parties at COP-3 to adopt the so-called Ban Amendment despite considerable opposition from leading industrialized countries and industry organizations (Krueger 1999; Brikell 2000). The Ban Amendment, which was integrated into the Basel Convention, prohibits the export of hazardous wastes for final disposal and recycling from countries listed in Annex VII (currently parties that are members of the OECD and the EU as well as Liechtenstein) to all other parties (i.e., developing countries).

Ratification of the Ban Amendment, however, has been slow, demonstrating that there are both industrialized and developing countries that do not support the North–South trade ban incorporated in the agreement. There are also significant legal and political uncertainties and disagreements among Basel Convention parties regarding the necessary number of ratifications for its entry into force (Selin 2010). These discussions will continue at future COPs. Furthermore, debate about North–South trade in hazardous waste led the parties at COP-5, in December 1999, to adopt the Basel Protocol on Liability and Compensation. This agreement addresses concerns by primarily developing countries lacking sufficient funds and technologies for coping with illegal dumping or accidental spills. The Protocol defines who in the export–import chain is financially responsible in the event of an incident during the transboundary movement of hazardous wastes covered by the Basel Convention. The Protocol on Liability and Compensation, however, has not yet entered into force.

Basel Convention management activities have increasingly focused on growing problems with e-wastes. Basel Convention COPs have endorsed voluntary public–private partnerships designed to expand producer responsibility for handling discarded goods in the context of environmentally sound management of e-wastes and associated toxic substances. The most extensive such partnership to date is the mobile phone partnership initiative initiated at COP-6 under the Basel Convention Partnership Programme (UNEP 2002b). This partnership, which will serve as test case for the development of others, seeks expanded participation and responsibility by major industry players such as Motorola, Nokia, Philips, Samsung, and Sony Ericsson in the end-of-life management of mobile phones. Currently, a series of small field projects are being considered in developing countries including Egypt, Senegal, and Vietnam (Selin 2010).

Basel Convention parties are also engaged in cooperation on capacity-building issues. Article 14 of the Basel Convention called for the creation of regional centers “for training and technology transfers regarding the management of hazardous wastes and other wastes and the minimization of their generation.” Over a dozen Regional Centers have been set up in Latin and South America, Africa, Asia, and Europe. The Regional Centers focus on issues such as training for customs officials, local municipalities, and other stakeholders in identifying and handling hazardous wastes; promoting environmentally sound waste management in each region; facilitating the transfer of cleaner production technologies to their member countries; aid in data collection and reporting to the Basel Secretariat; and engage in public education and awareness raising. In addition, the Regional Centers are tasked to aid efforts to minimize waste generation.

The Rotterdam Convention on Prior Informed Consent

The Rotterdam Convention regulates the international trade in chemicals, which has increased dramatically since the beginning of the simultaneous “chemicals revolution” and the “green revolution” in the 1940s. Despite that fact that most chemicals are traded among industrialized countries, it was once more the largely unregulated North–South trade and its effects that acted as the main stimuli for the development of international regulations in the 1970s and 1980s (similar to the hazardous wastes case) (Pallemaerts 2003). Concerns about the mishandling and unsafe use of pesticides were validated by emerging scientific data on high levels of pesticide poisonings among farmers and other handlers in many developing countries. The initial attempt to regulate the flow of chemicals to developing countries was led by developing countries and environmental NGOs working with UNEP and FAO.

In 1977, the UNEP Governing Council adopted a nonbinding resolution stating that hazardous chemicals should not be exported without the knowledge and explicit consent of the relevant authority of the importing country. In 1982, a UN General Assembly resolution further called for the establishment of a formal PIC procedure prior to the international export of domestically banned chemicals. The OECD Council in 1984 moreover adopted a recommendation that member states implement an OECD-based PIC system for trade in chemicals. However, a FAO Code of Conduct on the Distribution and Use of Pesticides that was adopted in 1985 failed to contain a PIC procedure despite such demands from many developing countries and environmental NGOs because of opposition from many industrialized countries and industry organizations. While the FAO Code shifted more responsibility to exporters, it stopped short of demanding consent for export (Victor 1998; Pallemaerts 2003).

In 1987, the UNEP Governing Council adopted the London Guidelines for the Exchange of Information on Chemicals in International Trade. Once more, a majority of developing countries and leading environmental NGOs, including Greenpeace and the WWF, pushed for the inclusion of a formal PIC procedure, and again it was rejected by the major chemical producing countries and the chemical industry. Thus, the London Guidelines did not include a formal PIC scheme, but relied on voluntary information sharing and notification, similar to the FAO Code passed two years earlier (Kummer 1999). However, the political balance was shifting and a North–South compromise allowed the UNEP Governing Council to decide that a PIC provision would be added at its next meeting in 1989. Similarly, the 1987 FAO Conference also instructed the FAO to add a PIC provision to its Code (Paarlberg 1993; Pallemaerts 1998, 2003).

In 1989, the UNEP Governing Council adopted the Amended London Guidelines, which created the first voluntary global PIC procedure. The same year, the FAO Council amended the FAO Code of Conduct to include a compatible system for information exchange and PIC. The PIC scheme was managed jointly by the FAO in Rome for pesticides and by UNEP Chemicals in Geneva for industrial chemicals. The PIC procedure operated in three steps. First, the government of an exporting country on behalf of a domestic firm had to notify an importing country of any control action that it has taken to ban or severely restrict a chemical for human health or environmental reasons. Second, the government of the importing country was obligated to respond to this notification, stating if it accepted import or not. Third, the exporting country government was responsible for communicating this response to the firm seeking export permission and to ensure that it complied with the decision of the importing country’s government.

Governments were also responsible for notifying FAO and UNEP Chemicals of any domestic action to ban or severely restrict a chemical, which made it eligible for inclusion on the PIC list. FAO or UNEP Chemicals were responsible for preparing a Decision Guidance Document for each chemical that was covered by PIC, summarizing published scientific risk assessment data. These Decision Guidance Documents were then sent to all governments to be used as basis for decisions regarding possible future import restrictions or bans. National governments were also required to summarize their decisions in a written Importing Country Response, which were collected by FAO and UNEP Chemicals and then submitted to all national government agencies that were working with the two organizations so that national governments could compare import restrictions (if any) on a particular chemical across countries.

Demands from many developing countries, leading environmental NGOs, and a growing number of industrialized countries for converting the voluntary scheme into a PIC treaty to provide for stronger environmental and human health protection increased steadily in the 1990s. Chapter 19 of Agenda 21 – which was adopted at the United Nations Conference on Environment and Development in 1992 – also called on states to create a legally binding PIC instrument. The FAO Council (in 1994) and the UNEP Governing Council (in 1995) approved the start of treaty negotiations. Negotiated between 1996 and 1998 under joint UNEP and FAO auspices, the Rotterdam Convention was adopted in September 1998. During the negotiations, some developing countries proposed a ban on the export of nationally prohibited chemicals from OECD countries to other countries, but such a ban received little support. In all, the negotiations largely transformed the voluntary procedure into a similar legally binding mechanism.

The Rotterdam Convention stipulates that the government of a potentially importing party can respond in three different ways after having received a formal request to accept import of a particular chemical on the PIC list (Kummer 1999; Pallemaerts 2003). First, the government can declare that it consents to receive the import of the chemical and any other shipments within the same calendar year; second, the government may reject the request; or third, the government may consent to import, but only if specific conditions are met by the exporting party. The government of the potential exporter must ensure that the exporter abides by the decision made by the potentially receiving country. The Secretariat, which is divided between UNEP Chemicals and FAO, acts as facilitator and communicator throughout this process and distributes all the responses between the parties. National governments are in turn responsible for communicating all information and decisions from the other party to all relevant domestic firms.

The Rotterdam Convention includes a procedure for updating the PIC list. A party that has banned or severely restricted the use of a chemical of a category covered by the treaty must notify the Secretariat (the treaty explicitly excludes, among others, pharmaceuticals, narcotic drugs, food additives, radioactive materials, chemical weapons, and chemicals used in research). When the Secretariat has received notification from parties from at least two different geographic regions – or from a single party that is a developing country or a country with an economy in transition experiencing domestic problems – it forwards all information to the Chemical Review Committee conducting an assessment. Based on its assessment, the Chemical Review Committee submits a recommendation to the COP making the final decision regarding inclusion on the PIC list (Kummer 1999; Kohler 2006). As the PIC procedure applies only to Rotterdam Convention parties, a firm in any party may avoid PIC requirements by using a firm in a nonparty country as an intermediary (Emory 2001; McDorman 2004).

Between 1998 and 2006, the PIC procedure continued to operate on a voluntary basis based on a Resolution on Interim Arrangement that was adopted alongside the treaty (McDorman 2004). Originally, 27 substances were listed in the Rotterdam Convention based on their inclusion under the voluntary procedure. Based on additions by several COPs, the Rotterdam Convention covered 40 chemicals by 2009. Several hundred other chemicals are being lined up for review by the Chemical Review Committee, and it is expected that the PIC list will be continuously expanded. In most cases during the operation of the voluntary PIC scheme, countries followed the recommendations of the FAO/UNEP and the Interim Chemical Review for including chemicals on the PIC list. There are, however, signs that adding of chemicals to the PIC procedure is becoming more politicized. This is a result of the fact that the COPs are faced with making decisions on several chemicals with high commercial value and that the PIC procedure has become mandatory (Selin 2010).

The Stockholm Convention on Persistent Organic Pollutants

Global cooperation and policy-making on POPs date back to the adoption of Agenda 21, which stressed the importance of more effective chemicals management (Krueger and Selin 2002). In May 1995, the UNEP Governing Council called for global assessments of 12 specific POPs (“the dirty dozen”). The assessments were coordinated by a range of IGOs, including the Inter-Organization Programme for the Sound Management of Chemicals, the International Programme on Chemical Safety, and the Intergovernmental Forum on Chemical Safety (Downie 2003:136). The main assessment work was carried out by the IFCS Ad Hoc Working Group on POPs. In addition, the global assessment drew heavily from then ongoing scientific and political efforts on POPs under CLRTAP, which acted as an important stepping stone for expanding POPs regulations from a regional to a global agreement (Selin and Eckley 2003; Selin 2010).

The IFCS Ad Hoc Working Group on POPs concluded in 1996 based on the global POPs assessments that there was sufficient information to justify the creation of a global legally binding agreement covering all 12 POPs that had been part of the assessment process (all these 12 POPs were also covered by the CLRTAP POPs Protocol). As a result, the IFCS Ad Hoc Working Group on POPs recommended that the UNEP Governing Council and the World Health Assembly initiate political treaty negotiations. In response, the UNEP Governing Council in 1997 requested that UNEP initiate a political negotiation process on POPs. Similarly, the World Health Assembly in 1997 requested that WHO participate in the negotiations (Selin and Eckley 2003). The negotiations for the Stockholm Convention began in 1998 – only three months after the adoption of the Rotterdam Convention and the same month that the regional CLRTAP POPs Protocol was signed.

The International POPs Elimination Network, a network of over 400 NGOs that was founded in 1998, lobbied consistently in support of the global elimination of POPs. Arctic indigenous peoples’ groups also participated in advocacy efforts (Fenge 2003). At the second negotiation session, Sheila Watt-Cloutier, then Canadian president of the Inuit Circumpolar Council, presented UNEP’s Executive Director Klaus Töpfer with an Inuit soapstone carving of a mother and child, and this statue was carried by John Buccini, the chair of the negotiations, to meetings as a moral symbol of what was at stake (Watt-Cloutier 2003; Selin and Selin 2008). The concerns voiced by the Arctic indigenous groups are also reflected in the preamble of the Stockholm Convention, which, like the CLRTAP POPs Protocol, recognizes that Arctic ecosystems and indigenous communities are particularly at risk because of the biomagnification of POPs and the contamination of traditional foods.

The Stockholm Convention, adopted in 2001 and entered into force in 2004, sets the general objective of protecting human health and the environment from POPs. The treaty prohibits the production and use of some POPs, while the production and use of others are merely restricted with specified allowed exemptions. The import and export of commercial POPs is only permitted for environmentally sound management and disposal, or for exempted substances. The Stockholm Convention also sets technical standards and practices for controlling POPs by-products from major sources. The decision to include the 12 POPs in the Stockholm Convention met relatively little resistance. All these substances were generally recognized as harmful. By early 2000s, all major industrialized countries and most developing countries had banned or severely restricted the production and use of the commercial POPs covered by the treaty. As a result, the commercial value of these substances was relatively low to most chemical companies.

The Stockholm Convention divides POPs into three annexes. The production and use of pesticides and industrial chemicals listed in Annex A are generally prohibited, but parties may apply for country-specific and time-limited exemptions. Annex B lists pesticides and industrial chemicals subject to restrictions where only specified uses are allowed. Annex C lists by-products regulated through the setting of best available techniques and best environmental practices for their minimization. The import and export of pesticides and industrial chemicals are only permitted for substances subject to use exemptions or for the environmentally sound management and disposal of discarded chemicals. On these issues, the Stockholm Convention is designed to be legally compatiable with the Rotterdam Convention and the Basel Convention.

The Stockholm Convention includes a mechanism for evaluating and including additional chemicals, similar to the one under the CLRTAP POPs Protocol. Evaluations are carried out by a POPs Review Committee consisting of government designated experts that meets in between COPs. Any party can submit a proposal to regulate a new chemical. The POPs Review Committee examines this proposal based on a set of scientific criteria. If the Review Committee deems it warranted, scientific and socio-economic assessments continue through several stages outlined in the treaty. Based on these assessments, the Review Committee conducts a management evaluation, which is submitted to the next COP making all regulatory decisions. At COP-4 in 2009, the parties added nine more POPs to the Stockholm Convention, making it a total of 21 POPs covered by the treaty. More are likely to be added in the future, but controversy over the inclusion of at least some commercial chemicals can also be expected (Selin 2010).

Stockholm Convention parties are working to establish a global monitoring program to evaluate implementation progress. Countries are also developing technical guidelines for the environmentally sound management of stockpiles and wastes. This work is carried out in collaboration with the Basel Convention Secretariat, as the Basel parties are simultaneously formulating technical guidance documents on POPs wastes. Parties are furthermore establishing guidelines for best available techniques and best environmental practices for controlling by-products. At COP-4 in 2009, parties established eight Stockholm Convention Regional Centers to aid capacity building. Of these, two were already operating as Basel Convention Regional Centers. Other Stockholm Convention Regional Centers are likely to be created in the future. In addition, parties are engaged in discussion with the Rotterdam Convention Secretariat on issues relating to the legal and illegal trade in POPs.

Future Scholarship and Management

Improved global management of hazardous substances and wastes is an important political and practical challenge to continue to reduce environmental and human health risks and fulfill the important policy goals adopted at the WSSD. Meeting these and other related goals is an integral part of ongoing efforts to achieve sustainable development, deserving of much more attention by both practitioners and policy analysts. Furthermore, scholarship on several aspects of the continuing politics and management of hazardous substances and wastes can be of great analytical interest to researchers working and publishing within several subsets of the political science and international relations literature.

Institutional scholarship may gain analytical insights from studying how states, IGOs, and NGOs shape policy on hazardous substances and wastes. In contrast to many other major environmental policy areas, legal and political efforts to address hazardous substances and wastes did not begin with a framework convention. Instead, countries have created several free-standing, nonhierarchical global treaties alongside several regional agreements. Although these treaties are formally independent, they are legally, politically, and practically connected. However, SAICM is designed to coordinate activities across major treaties and programs. In addition, states, IGOs, and NGOs interact within and across separate policy forums on overlapping sets of hazardous substances and policy issues. As such, the case of hazardous substances and wastes can be used to further explore characteristics of vertical and horizontal institutional linkages and linkage politics. Such studies could contribute to the literature on how institutional linkages shape policy-making and management across global, regional, national, and local governance levels.

Institutional analysis of policy-making and implementation may involve both rational choice and constructivist informed scholarship. That is, analysts can apply various kinds of power-based, interest-based, and knowledge-based approaches to explore actors and drivers of law making and policy expansions as well as determinants of treaty effectiveness. Such studies could pay more attention to heavy metals than previously. Earlier policy developments on heavy metals were almost exclusively domestic or regional. However, the decision by the UNEP Governing Council to support the development of a mercury treaty to be adopted no later than 2013 signals an increased attention to heavy metals alongside continuing policy developments on chemicals. Furthermore, several countries and advocacy groups hope that a mercury treaty is only the beginning of stricter global controls on a broader range of heavy metals, building on the CLRTAP Heavy Metals Protocol and other regional agreements. This would create even more empirical cases for studies of policy-making and institutional effectiveness.

Furthermore, the policy area of hazardous substances and wastes can be used to study the diffusion of principles, norms, ideas, and regulatory approaches across multilateral forums and national societies. Such diffusions are an increasingly common phenomenon as broader international trends of policy harmonization and economic globalization continue apace. As a result, actions by states, IGOs, and NGOs and their policy choices in one jurisdiction are increasingly shaped by external events and policy developments in other forums. This kind of analysis is likely to benefit from the inclusion of a broad set of policy actors beyond national governments, including regional organizations, sub-national authorities, firms and business organizations, and civil society groups. The case of hazardous substances and wastes moreover offers many opportunities to explore issues of science and policy interplay. This includes the influence of scientific environmental assessments on policy-making as well as the organization of scientific advice. Many of these cases can also be used to study issues relating to the application of the precautionary principle.

In addition, research on the international politics of hazardous substances and wastes could be better linked to scholarship on multilevel governance and attempts by states, IGOs, and NGOs to enhance regional and local management and capacity-building. This is connected with environmental security and justice issues as many developing countries possess inadequate human, financial, and/or technical resources for designing effective domestic policy on hazardous substances and wastes and ensuring the successful implementation of such policy. At the same time, many developing countries argue that existing resources generated through international donor organizations, including the Global Environment Facility, and under the main treaties for training and capacity-building are inadequate to meet demands. However, relatively little analytical attention has been paid to these issues. Additional empirical studies in different geographic regions could help both scholars and practitioners gain a deeper understanding of how to improve treaty effectiveness and capacity-building that would be of great interest across a wide range of policy areas.

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