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Nigeria, others in global talks on chemicals, waste streams management

By Chinedum Uwaegbulam
08 May 2023   |   3:05 am
The Conferences of the Parties (COPs) to the Basel, Rotterdam, and Stockholm Conventions commenced in Geneva, Switzerland to collectively advance the sound management of chemicals and waste.

Nigeria delegation at the Conferences of the Parties (COPs) to the Basel, Rotterdam, and Stockholm Conventions holding in Geneva, Switzerland

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The Conferences of the Parties (COPs) to the Basel, Rotterdam, and Stockholm Conventions commenced in Geneva, Switzerland to collectively advance the sound management of chemicals and waste.

Under the Basel Convention (BC), the oldest of the three conventions, there are various efforts to help it reflect contemporary waste streams and management. Debates on Annex IV (disposal operations) are part of this effort. Countries debated how to handle waste that is exported for repair or refurbishment.

For some, including this category, could close a loophole that allows unscrupulous dealers to bypass the Convention by claiming waste as reusable or repairable. Looming in the background is e-waste. If a computer is repairable when it is exported, but becomes waste soon after, it will be up to the importing country to dispose of it.

Discussions will focus on how to manage waste lead acid batteries and other waste batteries, including those containing lithium that are expected to be a growing waste management concern. Global demand for lithium-ion batteries is expected to increase 11 fold by 2030 as the world turns to electric vehicles and other clean energy technologies, as well as create future waste challenges.

Stockholm (SC) parties continued to hear calls for enhancing support, especially in light of a review of the needs of developing countries, as two deadlines are rapidly approaching: to eliminate the use of polychlorinated biphenyl (PCB) in equipment by 2025 and to ensure environmentally sound management of PCBs in equipment and in liquids by 2028. It is estimated that the average PCB disposal costs are $3316/ton, which means there is a projected funding gap for PCB disposal of around $1.7 billion.

At the opening of the two-week-long COPs, recently, Nigeria delegation led by the Federal Ministry of Environment’s Head, Pollution Control and Environmental Health, Olubunmi Olusanya and other African countries drew attention to illegal dumping of wastes and toxic substances and characterised the pace of remedial intervention as slow.

The region stressed that POPs should be eliminated, not recycled and also called for a working group on non-traditional financial resources and highlighted the importance of synergies.

The Group of Latin American Countries (GRULAC), cited as regional priorities: creating further synergies to prevent and combat the illegal trafficking of chemicals and wastes, such as with the World Customs Organisation and adopting BC technical guidelines on plastic, e-waste and batteries.

While European Union noted the need to adopt updated BC technical guidelines on plastic wastes. It supported listing the three proposed substances in Annex A of the SC (methoxychlor, an insecticide; Dechlorane Plus, a flame retardant; and UV-328, an ultraviolet filter used in plastics) and the seven proposed substances under the RC.

Ghana, on behalf of the African region, called for the guidelines to be practical and address an inadequate capacity to detect POPs and develop inventories. Argentina noted a growing number of chemicals connected to plastics and difficulties in identifying them and defining their concentrations.

Chile underscored difficulties in defining low-POP content values per substance to ensure the sustainable management of wastes, while Iran and the Maldives stressed financial and technical challenges.

The first week ended with Stockholm Convention agreement to eliminate production and use of Dechlorane Plus (a flame retardant) and UV-328 (a UV filter used in plastics), with a few specific exemptions; take up new work on labelling POPs in stockpiles, products, and articles; and support countries through technical assistance.

Work on the compliance mechanism for the Stockholm Convention continued. Delegates were quietly optimistic that, finally, there might be agreement. But the negotiations are tentative, moving one step at a time, and allowing countries to consult. These discussions will continue next week.

The Basel Convention discussed on how to improve the Convention’s priority informed consent (PIC) procedure. The Basel Convention’s PIC procedure requires information and consent on a shipment-by-shipment basis.

Efforts are underway to help make import responses easier, including by using electronic approaches. But there are many other challenges that cause concerns for countries and operators. Discussions considered how to craft a way forward, which one party said “goes to the heart of the Convention.”

On implications for importing countries, several developing countries worried that goods could be exported for repair or refurbishment but may not be usable afterwards or for long. This would result in a waste problem for their countries.

On technical assistance and financial resources, a group of developed countries requested clarity on the interlinkages between the SC and BC mandates for the regional centres, thus narrowing the scope of work, while other developing countries sought a broader reference to the synergies between the mandates of the Conventions.

The ‘natural progression’ of regional centres’ ability to deliver on activities that address mandates of the relevant chemicals and waste Conventions was noted by some developing countries.