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Working Group Pushes Forward on Guidelines for Plastics, POPs, Incineration

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By IISD’s SDG Knowledge Hub, September 11, 2020

A working group of government representatives convened virtually to discuss several items on the agenda for the Basel Convention on the movement and disposal of hazardous wastes. The meeting aimed to set a work plan for 2021, the last year in a ten-year strategic framework for implementing the Convention, among other objectives. 

The Open-ended Working Group (OEWG) guides work between meetings of the Conference of the Parties (COP). Building on outcomes of the 19th COP in 2019, the 12th meeting of the OEWG convened for the first of two segments – an online segment on 1 and 3 September 2020 (with 2 September featuring online side events on legal issues for the Convention). The second segment is expected to be an in-person segment in March 2021. According to the Earth Negotiations Bulletin, the online segment of OEWG12 “paved the way for quick decisions at the March 2021 face-to-face segment, if the COVID-19 pandemic is under control.”

The OEWG worked to advance technical guidelines on:

  • wastes containing persistent organic pollutants (POPs) and mercury;  
  • incineration on land and on specially engineered landfills; and
  • the identification and environmentally sound management (ESM) of plastic wastes and their disposal.

Participants also followed up on actions taken in 2019: amending the Basel Convention annexes to deal with plastic waste, and creating a new Plastic Waste Partnership. In his address to OEWG12, Basel Convention Executive Secretary Rolph Payet pleaded with parties not to backtrack on their commitments to reduce single-use plastics and to renew efforts in this regard. 

In the discussion, countries differed over whether they should further address upstream matters on preventing plastic waste. They also considered the value of an effectiveness assessment of action so far. The ENB reports that intervening parties supported vigorous follow-up to the 2019 amendment and the work of the Plastic Waste Partnership, but several expressed concern whether an effectiveness assessment is premature.

As explained by the ENB, OEWG12 still needs to decide the fate of an update of the technical guidelines on plastic waste, guidance on creating national inventories on plastic waste, a report on possible future activities on the issue under the Convention, the status of the Plastic Waste Partnership, and a proposal to the World Customs Organization to amend the Harmonized System to identify plastic wastes.

The OEWG also discussed technical guidelines on transboundary movements of e-waste and used electrical and electronic equipment, which were adopted in 2019. A deadline of 30 October 2020 is in place for parties to use and test the guidelines. Two countries introduced a proposal to make all e-waste shipments (whether or not considered hazardous) subject to the prior informed consent procedure. While some parties expressed support for the idea, several observers raised concerns that it would not improve the e-waste trade situation and would not support the transition towards a circular economy.

On ESM of waste lead-acid batteries, many participants indicated an urgent need to update the technical guidelines.

The Group also spent time on a ten-year strategic framework for implementing the Basel Convention (2012-2021), which will end next year. The Group reviewed the status of the draft report on the evaluation of this framework.

Per the ENB, as the online segment closed, OEWG12 still needed to reach agreement on a number of proposals to improve Convention implementation before COP15:

  • recommendations of the evaluation of the Strategic Framework for the implementation of the Basel Convention;
  • a practical manual for stakeholders to ensure that notifications of transboundary movements meet ESM requirements under the Convention;
  • recommendations for possible amendment proposals to the Convention’s annexes;
  • options for a system under the Convention to allow the automation of processes and the electronic exchange of information relating to the notification and movement of hazardous and other wastes; and
  • practical manuals on preparing national inventories on priority waste streams. 

OEWG12 is now suspended. It plans to reconvene at a face-to-face meeting in March 2021, in Nairobi, Kenya (back-to-back with the fifth UN Environment Assembly, UNEA-5). This tentative plan is subject to the availability of resources and a positive development of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The outcomes of the deliberations of the OEWG will be transmitted to COP 15, scheduled to be held back-to-back with the tenth meeting of the Conference of the Parties to the Rotterdam Convention (RC COP-10) and the tenth meeting of the Conference of the Parties to the Stockholm Convention (SC COP-10) from 19-30 July 2021, in Geneva, Switzerland. The collective theme of the meetings will be ‘Global Agreements for a Healthy Planet: Sound management of chemicals and waste.’ [Earth Negotiations Bulletin coverage of OEWG 12] [Basel Convention website