Industry body opposes strict liability for waste

UK association calls for relaxation of UN proposal on liability for hazardous waste shipments

An association of waste management companies has called for substantial changes to a draft UN protocol on legal liability and financial compensation for environmental damage caused by the international shipment of hazardous waste.

The UK Environmental Services Association (ESA) today called for changes to be made to a draft international proposal to add legal liability and compensation powers to the UN Basel Convention on the control of transboundary movement of hazardous wastes.

Parties to the convention agreed in 1992 to negotiate a protocol on liability and compensation. The draft protocol is still under discussion and is reported to be far from finalisation. Acting shortly before a meeting of the working group that is drafting the protocol, the ESA called for any regime to require proof of fault before liability can be imposed. The present draft protocol proposes a regime based on strict liability, which does not necessarily require attribution of fault.

The ESA proposes that in order to avoid delays in tracking down the party at fault, the national waste authority should pay compensation immediately. The authority could then recover its costs by taking legal action against the responsible parties, the ESA suggests.

The draft protocol proposes the creation of an international fund so that finance is immediately available for environmental restoration in the event of an incident. The oil industry already operates such a fund. However, the ESA says this model is inappropriate in the waste sector because of "the larger number of organisations involved and their disparate nature".

It also opposes moves to leave open-ended the maximum level of compensation payable in any case. The association says: "Compliance with unlimited environmental liability may well mean necessary insurance costs outweigh the value of the waste cargo and so the service would not be financially viable."

Finally, the ESA calls for a clear definition of where a transboundary movement of waste starts and stops. It proposes that liability should only apply for incidents that occur outside the exporting country's legal boundary, including its territorial sea.

Follow Up:
Environmental Services Association, tel: +44 171 824 8882; Basel Convention secretariat , tel: +41 22 979 9111.

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