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International Treaties and Conventions

A treaty is between nations and/or supra-national bodies and organisations. The words agreement, convention, and protocol are, in terms of the rules and standing in the eyes of international law, identical. Treaties between two parties are known as bilateral treaties. More than two parties is a multilateral treaty.

Before a treaty is signed or ratified, parties may propose caveats, or reservations, to certain clauses or sections. These are statements which exclude or modify the clause and its obligations on the party. Reservations may not be added after signing or ratification. This is one of the reasons that treaties can take many years before it is ratified by the member state.

A protocol is a supplemental treaty or agreement to an initial treaty. The UNFCCC (United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, 1992) set out a general framework for greenhouse gas emission reductions. More specific individual targets, provisions and regulations, were nutted out and set down in the Kyoto Protocol, 1997. Playing its part as perennial obstruction to international consensus, the USA demonstrated the principle that signing the original treaty does not oblige a state to sign and ratify the subsequent protocols, thereby undermining the will and spirit of the other 192 states who did sign and ratify both the treaty and subsequent protocol.

Dangerous Goods and Hazardous Wastes

Several serious accidents and abusive practices involving the shipment of hazardous waste, especially from developed countries to the developing world, led to a public outcry by the mid-1980s. The result were a number of international conventions, to which the only remaining major abstainer is the USA.

The major conventions controlling movements, export and import, but also generation, handling, treatment and storage of substances which can cause harm to the environment and human health are:

Basel Convention 1989

Download: Basel Convention full text - English (pdf 205 kB)

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

The Basel Convention is an international treaty governing the transboundary movements of hazardous waste. It is designed primarily to prevent the transfer of hazardous waste from more developed countries (MDCs) to less developed countries (LDCs).

The Basel Convention seeks to limit the quantities and degrees of toxicity generated, and to ensure their sound environmental management, at or as close as possible to their place of generation. It does not, however, cover the movement of radioactive waste, since it was considered that radioactive waste was sufficiently well covered by other treaties and agreements. This omission led the Bamako convention to include radioactive waste specifically.

182 states are party to the convention. It was ratified by Germany on 24 May 2002, Switzerland 7 Nov 2002, United Kingdom 13 Oct 1997, but the United States have not ratified it.

When the Parties to the Convention sought to make an economic distinction between developed and developing countries in Decision II/12, they chose the divider line established by the OECD — a group which currently has 34 members and and for the most part represent the more highly developed and industrialized countries. This group by far produces the most hazardous waste (estimated at 90%) and by far has the most resources to ensure that it is dealt with responsibly at home.

Related Protocol: Basel Protocol on Liability and Compensation for Damage Resulting from Transboundary Movements of Hazardous Wastes and their Disposal, 1999.

Bamako Convention 1991

Download: Bamako Convention full text - English (pdf 71 kB)

Full name: The Bamako Convention on the ban on the Import into Africa and the Control of Transboundary Movement and Management of Hazardous Wastes within Africa.

The Bamako Convention is a treaty by 12 African nations, agreed in 1991, coming into force in 1999, prohibiting the import of hazardous wastes, as listed in the Basel Convention (1989), with the specific addition of radioactive waste.

The Bamako convention is similar to the Basel Convention, but more stringent on its requirements of participating parties. The Basel Convention allows for regional agreements, which may be equal to or stronger than the provisions in the Basel Convention.

Related to: Guidelines and Principles for the Environmentally Sound Management of Hazardous Wastes adopted by the Governing Council of the United Nationals Environment Programme (UNEP) by Decision 14/30 (17.06.87)

Recommendations of the UN Committee of Experts on the Transport of Dangerous Goods (1957 and biennial updates).

Charter of Human Rights,

Declaration of the United Nations Conference on the Human Environment (Stockholm, 1972)

African convention of the Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources, Algiers (1968).

World Charter for Nature, UN General Assembly (1982), as rule of ethics in respect of the protection of the human environment and conservation of natural resources.

Article 4: General Obligations:

1. Hazardous Waste Import Ban: prohibition of import to area of jurisdiction of participating parties by non-contracting parties.

2. Ban on dumping of hazardous waste at sea and internal waters.

3. Waste generation in Africa: generators are subject to notification and audit restrictions, liability, obligation to minimise (while taking into account social, technological and economic aspects), provision of adequate treatment/disposal facilities, prevention and control of pollution arising, and protection of human health and the environment.

The London Convention Protocol (1996)

The 1972 Convention on the Prevention of Marine Pollution by Dumping of Wastes and Other Matter, commonly called the "London Convention", was replaced by the 1996 Protocol.

The London Convention forbids most forms of ocean dumping.

Lomé Convention 1975

A trade and aid agreement between the European Economic Community (EEC) and 71 African, Caribbean, and Pacific (ACP) countries. It was first signed in February 1975 in Lomé, Togo.

Lomé IV Convention relating to the international movement of hazardous wastes and radioactive wastes.

Rotterdam Convention 1998

Download: Rotterdam Convention full text - English (pdf 71 kB)

Convention on the Prior Informed Consent Procedure for Certain Hazardous Chemicals and Pesticides in International Trade, Rotterdam, 1998. Last meeting 10 May 2013 (Geneva). Also referred to as PIC (Prior Informed Consent).

The Rotterdam Convention seeks to encourage the sharing of information between exporters and importers with regards the labelling, classification, specific handling instructions, and any existing restrictions and bans, of hazardous chemicals.

Signatory nations are entitled to ban the importation of listed chemicals, and exporting countries have an obligation to ensure producers are compliant to the treaty's regulations.

In 2011, Canada unilaterally and controversially blocked the addition of chrysotile asbestos to the list of chemicals subject to Rotterdam restrictions, but finally bowed to pressure and withdrew its opposition in 2012.

Stockholm Convention

Download: Stockholm Convention 2001 full text - English (pdf 126 kB)

The Stockholm Convention (2001) on Persistent Organic Pollutants is concerned with the elimination or restriction of POPs. It is one of the three principal instruments in the UN hazardous waste management arsenal.

There were 179 parties to the Stockholm Convention by 2013, which include 178 states and the European Union. As usual, the United States is obstructing global concensus, and has not ratified. Other non-ratifying states include Israel, Malaysia, Italy and Iraq.

Together, the three global conventions of the UNO, Basel, Stockholm and Rotterdam, target the most dangerous chemical pollutants like dioxins and furans, hazardous pesticides and DDT, polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs), polybrominated diphenyl ethers (PBDEs), PFOS, and the heavy metals: arsenic, cadmium, mercury and lead, and more chemicals are added at regular meetings (COP).

Izmir Protocol

Protocol on the Prevention of Pollution of the Mediterranean Sea by Transboundary Movements of Hazardous Wastes and Their Disposal (Izmir Protocol), 1 October 1996.

This protocol was adopted by the parties to the Convention for the Protection of the Mediterranean Sea against Pollution, (Barcelona Convention). The protocol prohibits the export of hazardous and radioactive wastes to non-OECD countries, and those Parties that are not members of the European Community are prohibited from importing hazardous and radioactive wastes.

Safe planet

United Nations Campaign for Responsibility on Hazardous Chemicals and Wastes: led by the UN Environment Programme (UNEP) and UN Food and Agricultural Organization (FAO). The campaign seeks to raise global public awareness about the issues related to human health and environmental protection, due to the increase in production, traffic and use of hazardous chemicals and wastes.

Safe Planet promotes life-cycle analysis and LCA as a standard approach to the management of chemicals and waste, and seeks to develop solutions for toxic substances, and to involve all stakeholders. These are: government legislature and agencies, industry, educational institutions, community groups, grassroots organizations, and consumers.

Other Treaties

Living Resources Treaties and conventions

The international agreements for the conservation of species and terrestrial living resources:

  • Antarctic Treaty, Washington DC, 1959.
  • World Heritage Convention Convention Concerning the Protection of the World Cultural and Natural Heritage, Paris, 1972.
  • Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD), Nairobi, 1992.
  • Convention on the Conservation of Migratory Species of Wild Animals (CMS), Bonn, 1979.
  • Convention on the International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Flora and Fauna, (CITES), Washington DC, 1973.
  • Ramsar Convention Convention on Wetlands of International Importance, especially as Waterfowl Habitat, Ramsar, 1971.
  • Convention to Combat Desertification (CCD), Paris, 1994.
  • FAO International Undertaking on Plant Genetic Resources, Rome, 1983.
  • International Tropical Timber Agreement (ITTA, 2006).


  • Convention on Long-Range Transboundary Air Pollution (LRTAP), Geneva, 1979.

Nuclear safety

  • Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT) 1996
  • Convention on Assistance in the Case of a Nuclear Accident or Radiological Emergency (Assistance Convention), Vienna, 1986.
  • Convention on Early Notification of a Nuclear Accident (Notification Convention), Vienna, 1986.
  • Convention on Nuclear Safety, Vienna, 1994.
  • Treaty Banning Nuclear Weapon Tests in the Atmosphere, in Outer Space, and Under Water
  • Vienna Convention on Civil Liability for Nuclear Damage, Vienna, 1963.

World Charter for Nature

World Charter for Nature was adopted by United Nations member nation-states on October 28, 1982, with 111 votes in favour, and only the USA opposing. It sets forth five principles of conservation:

  1. Nature shall be respected and its essential processes shall not be impaired.
  2. The genetic viability on the earth shall not be compromised; the population levels of all life forms, wild and domesticated, must be at least sufficient for their survival, and to this end necessary habitats shall be safeguarded.
  3. All areas of the earth, both land and sea, shall be subject to these principles of conservation; special protection shall be given to unique areas, to representative samples of all the different types of ecosystems and to the habitats of rare or endangered species.
  4. Ecosystems and organisms, as well as the land, marine and atmospheric resources that are utilized by man, shall be managed to achieve and maintain optimum sustainable productivity, but not in such a way as to endanger the integrity of those other ecosystems or species with which they coexist.
  5. Nature shall be secured against degradation caused by warfare or other hostile activities.

The vote was 111 for, one against (United States), 18 abstentions.

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