When teaching International Environmental Law, I tend to at some point in the proceedings have the students ponder Lawrence Summers’ 1992 ‘Let them eat pollution‘ memo. It is a document most wonderful to teach basic economics, internalisation (or lack thereof) of externalities, morality in international trade, comparative advantage etc etc. As well as some history (remember Marie Antoinette, anyone?) and the myths surrounding quotes (qu’ils mangent de la brioche).
The EU have recently decided no longer to let developing countries recycle EU-registered ships through ‘beaching’: basically, one towes a discarded ship, typically with plenty of toxic substances on board or integrated in the ship’s build, unto a beach in a developing country, where subsequently the ship is dismantled without much regard to environmental control of occupational health and safety issues.
The long struggle to regulate the trade is a good example of the challenges of positive harmonisation in international environmental law. For instance, the definition of ‘waste’ as applied to a disused ship long differed between the EU (waste as soon as it is no longer used for its original purpose), the International maritime organisation (no waste as long as it can float) and the Basel Convention (reference to ‘discard’ and to national law). The 2009 Hong Kong Convention aims to address the challenges. This Convention has now been implemented by the EU, who have reportedly ‘gold plated’ it: i.e. the EU have gone beyond what is required under the Convention.
Some details of the scheme may be found here (Irish Presidency of the EU) – the text itself is not yet available. The regime uses a core element of the regime of the Basel Convention on the transboundary shipments of hazardous wastes and their disposal: i.e. employ export authorities in the ‘developed’ world, to only allow exports to ‘developing’ countries when conditions in the latter are deemed sufficiently safe from the workers’ and the environment’s point of view. In the case of the ship recycling regime, this is done by only allowing export of EU-flagged waste ships if they are to be dismantled in facilities that have been approved by the EU.
Plenty of complications remain: this includes the compatibility of the regime with the Basel Convention, and with international trade law; the problem of enforcement and inspection; and the possibility of circumvention by switching flag state.
Geert. Postscript July 2014: the Regulation was eventually adopted as Regulation 1257/2013.