The Secretariat for the Convention to support countries to establish regulatory frameworks and waste management systems to prevent future build-ups of chemicals and hazardous wastes

The 11th meeting of the Conference of the Parties to the Convention to Ban the Importation into Forum Island Countries of Hazardous and Radioactive Wastes and to Control the Transboundary Movement and Management of Hazardous Wastes within the South Pacific Region, also known as the Waigani Convention, officially convened on August 3, with Parties and Observers participation made possible by being hosted on a virtual platform.  

The Waigani Convention is modelled on the Basel Convention to reduce and eliminate transboundary movements of hazardous and radioactive waste, to minimize the production of hazardous and toxic wastes in the Pacific region and to ensure that disposal of wastes in the Convention area is completed in an environmentally sound manner. 

The Convention was adopted in Waigani, Papua New Guinea in September 1995, entering into force in 2001. The Secretariat of the Pacific Regional Environment Programme (SPREP) is the Secretariat for the Convention. 

SPREP Deputy Director General,Easter Chu Shing, in her opening remarks acknowledged the Waigani Convention Secretariat host country, Samoa, for the continued support that they have provided during these extraordinarily challenging times, enabling services as mandated by the Convention to be carried out diligently. 

“The global pandemic has forced us to reconsider our relationship with the environment and on this COP, I would like to urge all Parties of the need to remain vigilant over the impacts of chemicals and hazardous wastes on our lives as well as the environment”, stated the SPREP Deputy Director General.

The Deputy Director General continued that while the Pacific islands may not be importing large amounts of chemicals and hazardous wastes compared to other regions, Pacific economies and everyday lives relied on many chemicals and chemical products and the dangers were always around. 

“Our work on chemicals and hazardous wastes has discovered stockpiles of obsolete chemicals in many of our member countries such as stockpiles of used oil, e-waste, POPs, lead acid batteries, laboratory chemicals, pesticides, asbestos, mercury containing equipment & medical devices and lead contaminated paint”, added Chu Shing

The Deputy Director General stated that the Secretariat has identified a number of challenges that lie ahead and is taking proactive steps to improve the Convention and the services it can provide for Parties. 

The Conference of the Parties to the Waigani Convention (COP) decided at its tenth meeting in 2019 to undertake a comprehensive evaluation of how the Waigani Convention is being implemented at all levels, whether its objectives are being met by the actions of the Parties, the effectiveness of the Secretariat, and to provide recommendations on how these can be improved. A comprehensive Waigaini Convention Review report and a Basel Convention-Plastic Waste Amendment will be presented at this COP for deliberations by Parties. 

“In today’s meeting Parties will have an opportunity to discuss the findings and recommendations of the review and I urge you to take affirmative action on the outcomes of the report so we can improve the effectiveness of the Convention and provide guidance on how we can serve you better as your Secretariat.”, encouraged the SPREP Deputy Director General.

The Deputy Director General announced that strategic partnerships with other chemicals and wastes conventions like the Basel, Rotterdam, Stockholm Conventions and Minamata, enabled the Secretariat to be invited by the Global Environment Facility (GEF) to apply for funding during the GEF 7 funding cycle, and secure a $20 million ISLANDS Pacific Child project, which will be dedicated to helping members with their chemicals and hazardous waste challenges.

Parties to the Waigani Convention will receive assistance through this project to meet their Article 4 (b) obligations on developing hazardous waste management strategies that are compatible with SPREP’s Cleaner Pacific 2025 strategy. 

There are other ongoing SPREP implemented programmes such as the European Union funded Pacific Waste Management Programme (PacWastePlus) that is actively working with a number of Pacific islands on meaningful country projects that includes e-waste management, medical waste management and management of asbestos and asbestos containing materials as well as legislative reviews.

“The ISLANDS project will also undertake a massive clean-up of our countries and remove obsolete stockpiles of hazardous waste to be disposed of in specialized disposal facilities under the Waigani Convention and we plan to remove close to 12 tonnes of DDT, over a million litres of PCB contaminated oil, 3 tons of mercury containing equipment, and stocks of e-waste”, added the Deputy Director General. 

To prevent future build ups of chemicals and hazardous wastes, the Secretariat will be supporting countries to establish regulatory frameworks and waste management systems that will take back these items and process them in an environmentally sound manner.

“We commend the Parties for observing requirements for transboundary movements of hazardous wastes and it is your due diligence that has continued to make our region free of illegal movements and dumping of hazardous waste”, added Chu Shing.

The virtual COP began with the election of Australia as the new Chair of the Convention, with the Federated States of Micronesia as Vice Chair. Ms Chloe Bird, assumed Chairmanship of the meeting, expressing her gratitude and appreciation to his predecessor, Mr Walter Kaua of Tuvalu, for his leadership over the last two years.

The Secretariat’s work under the Convention were reported via its subsidiary bodies, the Scientific and Technical Advisory Committee (STAC) and the Steering Committee for the Pacific Regional Centre (SCPRC) for the Joint Implementation of the Basel and Waigani Convention. Mr Joshua Sam, Hazardous Waste Management Adviser SPREP’s Waste Management and Pollution Control programme, presented the report of the STAC on behalf of its Chair, Fiji and Ms Mariska Wouters of New Zealand presented the work of the SCPRC as its current Chair. 

The thirteen parties to the Waigani Convention are: Australia, Cook Islands, Federated States of Micronesia, Fiji, Kiribati, New Zealand, Niue, Papua New Guinea, Samoa, Solomon Islands, Tonga, Tuvalu, and Vanuatu. A total of 10 of the 13 parties were able to join the 11th Waigani COP. 

The 11th Waigani Convention COP is being held prior to the 30th SPREP Meeting of Officials, which will convene from 7 – 10 September 2021.

This story was produced by Leanne, published at SPREP on 3 September 2021, reposted via PACNEWS.

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