Make India Asbestos Free

Make India Asbestos Free
For Asbestos Free India

Journal of Ban Asbestos Network of India (BANI) that works for Asbestos Free India inspired by trade union leader Purnendu Majumadar. Occupational Health India and ToxicsWatch Alliance are its members that includes doctors, researchers and activists. BANI demands criminal liability for companies and medico-legal remedy for victims. It works with trade unions, human rights, environmental, consumer and public health groups. For Details: 1715krishna@gmail.com

Sunday, October 21, 2007

IMO's Ship Recycling Convention undermines International environmental laws

Alang ship breaking yard is part of the global shipbreaking crisis. The Basel Convention, International Maritime Organization, European Union, US, Ban Asbestos Networking of India (BANI), Basel Action Network and Platform on ship-breaking besides Supreme Court of India are seized with the problem.

Asbestos decontamination is one of the key concerns in the ship-breaking industry. Asbestos waste export and import is banned in India but it is being argued by the Indian Ministry of Environment & Forests that asbestos waste when it is part of the structure it need not be deemed asbestos waste-implying the impossible condition where asbestos waste will exist in a virgin manner and would not be embedded in some structure.

In such a context the Green Paper on Better Ship Dismantling (Green Paper of EU) is a welcome step even as it is clear that it does not, as yet go far enough in assuming a global leadership role and pressing for the needed proactive reform on what has been a glaring lapse in sustainability and justice in international ship recycling, fostered too long by governments that have been cowed by a powerful shipping industry.

Shipbreaking as it is practiced today by the shipping industry and for the last twenty years, is a classic policy failure in all aspects of the “triple bottom line” -- of social, environmental and economic yardsticks. Its current “profitability” is maintained solely due to a sanctioned and institutionalized gross cost externalization, where the polluter has all-too conveniently not had to pay and the very real human and environmental price is rather paid, by virtue of unfettered free markets, by those too politically or financially weak to be able to ever present the bill. Thus, the trade in toxic ships to developing countries for hazardous waste “management” must be seen not only as an affront to morality, human rights and the environment, but also as an affront to sound and efficient economics, as ship owners are given carte blanche to ride the waves of economic distortion provided by ease of externalization via globalization. In this game of avoidance, the true environmental and social costs fail to be recorded on the ledgers but are rather recorded in the scandal sheet snapshots of the contaminated beaches and dead and dying workers in India.

The Basel Convention was created in large part to prevent this form of cost externalization, this exploitation of weaker economies and workforces, this disproportionate burdening of desperate workers with harm. It called for producer responsibility and national self-sufficiency in hazardous waste management universally and in 1995 the Convention passed a global export ban (Basel Ban Amendment) for the OECD/EU/Liechtenstein group on the export of hazardous waste of all kinds for any reason to insure that national self sufficiency is first practiced by the rich developed countries. The European Union to their great credit not only took leadership in passing the Basel Ban but moreover was quick to implement it through the Waste Shipment Regulation.

Due to the constant mobility of ships and the disassociation of flag states (i.e. flags of convenience) with ownership or economic beneficiaries, it is well understood that neither the Basel Convention nor the Waste Shipment Regulation (WSR) is well suited to regulate ships that might seek to circumvent the Basel or WSR controls and bans. Nevertheless it is absolutely vital that the EU, in its shipbreaking policy does not retreat from the principles of the Basel Convention and the Waste Shipment Regulation simply because ships are more difficult to regulate as hazardous waste than is their cargo. Rather they must move aggressively to plug the loopholes rather than institutionalize them.

Just as the EU has been the backbone upholding the Basel Convention and the Basel Ban Amendment to date globally, the EU must assume a global leadership role in upholding established principle and develop policy that not only is consistent with the Waste Shipment Regulation for ships, but works to create that level playing field of responsibility worldwide.

Unfortunately the EU is already stepping away from established principles embodied in the Basel Convention and Waste Shipment Regulation in their negotiations at the International Maritime Organization as that body deliberates on a new Convention on Ship Recycling (IMO Convention). While the Basel Convention Parties, the European Council, and the Environment Commissioner Dimas have repeatedly called for an “equivalent level of control” to be established in the IMO Convention, so far the EU has failed to aggressively take action to ensure such equivalency and the shipping industry dominated IMO has forged ahead with a regime which by design, places responsibility away from ship-owners or states with jurisdiction over ship-owners and instead has placed the few responsibilities currently obligated under the new regime on flag states (e.g. flags of convenience) and on recycling states. Both of these groups of states have little incentive to provide diligent regulation as both are current economic beneficiaries of the unaccountable status quo.

It is clear that if the EU does not step forward to uphold international principles, we will witness a dramatic turning back of the clock in an age where environmental issues need far more rigor and not less.

India and EU must assert the agreed principles of Basel Convention at the International Maritime Organization that is now being negotiated but it utterly fails in the first instance to minimize the transboundary movements of hazardous wastes on board ships, and to prevent their disproportionate burdening of such harm on weaker economies, communities and laborers. It is devoid of the basic principles now well established in international law and policy including the precautionary principle, the substitution principle, the polluter pays principle, the principle of environmental justice, the principle of producer responsibility, the principle of common but differentiated responsibility, the principle of corporate social responsibility etc.

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