North Carolina Journal of International Law

"Connecting North Carolina to the World of International Law"

International Community to Meet in Geneva to Update Chemical Waste Conventions

By; Tasmaya Lagoo

The Basel, Rotterdam, and Stockholm Conventions represent the international community’s attempt to bring a certain level of transparency, fairness, and safety to the transboundary movement of chemical wastes. The three conventions form a cradle-to-grave framework for addressing the challenges posed by the immense quantities of chemical wastes that routinely move between nations.

Since the adoption of the three conventions, parties to the Basel, Rotterdam, and Stockholm Conventions have convened multiple times to update their regulatory frameworks and assess their progress. In April 2017, parties to all three conventions will meet in Geneva for a Triple Conference of the Parties.[1] The parties to each convention are expected to build on the steady progress they have made over the past several years.

The Basel Convention

Formally known as the Basel Convention on the Control of Transboundary Movements of Hazardous Wastes and their Disposal, the Basel Convention was adopted on March 21, 1989 and entered into force on April 5, 1992.[2]  Although the United States became a signatory in 1990, it has yet to ratify the Basel Convention.[3]

The Convention empowers Parties to prohibit imports of hazardous waste and requires that Parties work to ensure that hazardous wastes are not exported to nations that have not consented to receiving them.[4] The Convention covers chemical wastes that are enumerated within the treaty itself as well as those that member nations consider to be hazardous based on domestic law.[5] In 2002, the Basel Convention expanded its scope to specifically address the growing threat posed by “e-waste” – waste from electronic devices like personal computers, cell phones, or TVs.[6]

In 1995, the Conference of Parties adopted a provision – the Ban Amendment – to prohibit any exports of hazardous wastes from OECD nations to non-OECD nations.[7] Unfortunately, the Amendment has not yet been ratified by enough nations to enter into force.[8] In 2016, South Africa became the latest nation to ratify the Ban Amendment, bringing it marginally closer to entering into force.[9]

During the upcoming Triple COP, Basel Convention parties are expected to assess the effectiveness of their e-waste programs and discuss the level of support the Ban Amendment will require before it can enter into force.[10]

The Rotterdam Convention

The Rotterdam Convention on the Prior Informed Consent Procedure for Certain Hazardous Chemicals and Pesticides in International Trade was adopted on September 9, 1998 and entered into force on February 23, 2004.[11] As with the Basel Convention, the United States has signed, but not ratified, the Rotterdam Convention.[12]

The primary goal of the Rotterdam convention is to “promote shared responsibility and cooperative efforts among Parties in the international trade of certain hazardous chemicals.”[13] To that end, the Convention both requires parties to decide whether or not to permit imports of certain chemicals and facilitates an information exchange that allows parties to stay well-informed of the regulatory decisions of other nations.[14]

At the Triple COP, Parties to the Rotterdam Convention will consider listing several new chemicals under Annex III, including the pesticides carbofuran and carbosulfan.[15]  Once a chemical is listed under Annex III, Parties to the Convention take on significant responsibilities to ensure that imports and exports of the chemical only occur with the prior informed consent of the nations involved in the transaction.[16]

Rotterdam parties will also consider a potentially significant change to their voting procedures by allowing measures that do not receive consensus support to pass with support from 75 percent of parties.[17]

The Stockholm Convention

The Stockholm Convention on Persistent Organic Pollutants was adopted on May 21, 2001, and entered into force on May 16, 2004.[18]  The United States has not yet ratified the Convention.[19]

The Convention requires Parties to enact domestic regulations to reduce or eliminate the production or release of certain persistent organic pollutants (POPs) such as DDT and other pesticides that have the ability to bio-accumulate in ecosystems.[20]

Nearly all prior meetings of the Conference of the Parties to the Stockholm Convention resulted in the addition of new chemicals to the list of pollutants covered by the convention.[21]  At the Triple COP, Parties to the Stockholm Convention will continue this trend by considering the listing of three new chemicals.[22]  Short-chain chlorinated paraffins and decabromodiphenyl ether are both being consider for listing under the Annex A of the convention while hexachlorobutadiene will be considered for listing under Annex C.[23]  Parties to the convention are required to take steps to eliminate the production and use of any chemicals listed under Annex A and limit the unintentional release of any chemicals listed under Annex C.[24]


[1] Meetings of the conferences of the parties to the Basel, Rotterdam, and Stockholm conventions, Synergies Among the Basel, Rotterdam, and Stockholm Conventions, http://www.brsmeas.org/2017COPs/Overview/tabid/5306/language/en-US/Default.aspx [https://perma.cc/DGX2-WT2R].

[2] Parties to the Basel Convention on the Control of Transboundary Movements of Hazardous Wastes and their Disposal, Basel Convention, http://www.basel.int/Countries/StatusofRatifications/PartiesSignatories/tabid/4499/Default.aspx#enote1 [https://perma.cc/5Q8R-WDVZ].

[3] Id.

[4] Basel Convention on the Control of Transboundary Movements of Hazardous Wastes and Their Disposal, art. IV, Mar. 21, 1989, 1673 U.N.T.S. 126, 28 I.L.M. 657 [hereinafter Basel Convention].

[5] Id., art. III.

[6] E-waste Overview, Basel Convention, http://basel.int/Implementation/Ewaste/Overview/tabid/4063/Default.aspx [https://perma.cc/T4Q6-84QY].

[7] The Basel Convention Ban Amendment, Basel Convention, http://www.basel.int/implementation/legalmatters/banamendment/tabid/1484/default.aspx [https://perma.cc/B9QC-DN3M].

[8] Id.

[9] Keith Ripley, South African Ratification Brings Ban Amendment Closer to Entry into Force, SDG Knowledge Hub (June 30, 2016), http://sdg.iisd.org/news/south-african-ratification-brings-ban-amendment-closer-to-entry-into-force/ [https://perma.cc/DA5V-X5VY].

[10] Bryce Baschuk, New Restrictions Expected From International Chemical Conventions, International Environment Reporter (Jan. 11, 2017) 40 INER Issue No. 01.

[11] Status of Ratifications, Rotterdam Convention, http://www.pic.int/Countries/Statusofratifications/tabid/1072/language/en-US/Default.aspx [https://perma.cc/DB8W-T67X]

[12] Id.

[13] Rotterdam Convention on the Prior Informed Consent Procedure for Certain Hazardous Chemicals and Pesticides in International Trade art. I, Sept. 10, 1998, 2244 U.N.T.S. 337, 38 I.L.M. 1 [hereinafter Rotterdam Convention].

[14] How it works, Rotterdam Convention, http://www.pic.int/TheConvention/Overview/Howitworks/tabid/1046/language/en-US/Default.aspx [https://perma.cc/RP24-ZJXH]

[15] Baschuk, supra note 14.

[16] Rotterdam Convention, supra note 12, art. X – XI.

[17] Baschuk, supra note 14.

[18] Status of Ratification, Stockholm Convention, http://chm.pops.int/Countries/StatusofRatifications/PartiesandSignatoires/tabid/4500/Default.aspx [https://perma.cc/P59C-ZXZB].

[19] Id.

[20] Stockholm Convention on Persistent Organic Pollutants art. IV – VI, May 22, 2001, 2256 U.N.T.S. 119, 40 I.L.M. 532. [hereinafter Stockholm Convention].

[21] Convention Text, Stockholm Convention, http://chm.pops.int/TheConvention/Overview/TextoftheConvention/tabid/2232/Default.aspx [https://perma.cc/ZRT5-237K].

[22] Baschuk, supra note 14.

[23] Id.

[24] Stockholm Convention, supra note 20, at art. 3, art. 5.

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