Let them stop eating pollution – The European ban on beaching of EU ships

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.

Proposed geo-engineering amendment to London Protocol

Australia, Nigeria and South Korea (a bit of an unusual troika, truth to be told) have jointly proposed an amendment to the London Protocol [Convention on the Prevention of Marine Pollution
by Dumping of Wastes and Other Matter 1972 and 1996 Protocol Thereto]. The Amendment would severely and formally restrict the legality of geo-engineering among signatory States. As reported earlier, in 2008, Parties to the London Convention and Protocol adopted a resolution prohibiting ocean fertilization other than for legitimate scientific research. The proposed amendment would strengthen the nature of that prohibition.

Ocean fertilisation would be the only accepted form of geo-engineering which can continue to be researched, under monitoring and supervision of the Protocol. All other activities would remain subject to the general ban on dumping of wastes at sea. Evidently the Protocol does not capture all geo-engineering techniques, whence even if accepted, the amendment would fall short of a global regime for geo-engineering, thereby confirming the incremental process of regulating global environmental concerns.

I have searched high and low but have as yet not located a copy of the actual proposal: this post is based on the Australian government’s press release, on reporting in The Age, Environment and the geo-engineering blogspot.


Canadian iron fertilization project highlights fuziness of legal regime on geo-engineering

Parties to the relevant international dumping at sea Conventions [the Convention on the Prevention of Marine Pollution by Dumping of Wastes and Other Matter, 1972 (London Convention) and 7th meeting of Contracting Parties to 1996 Protocol thereto (London Protocol)] have adopted a statement, condemning a recent ocean iron fertilisation project off the coast of Canada.

In 2008, Parties to the London Convention and Protocol adopted a resolution prohibiting ocean fertilization other than for legitimate scientific research (see relevant discussion in Nidhi Srivastava’s work here). Whether this amounted to a moratorium or not was immediately interpreted differently by different stakeholders.  The current commotion illustrates that geo-engineering may be added to nanotechnology and shale gas as an area of regulatory law where the ‘incremental’ approach to regulation sure does lead to a lot of uncertainty in the meantime.


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