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Pierre Portas

The history of the Basel Convention still needs to be written. This chapter attempts to provide a narrative based on experience and the events of the last decades. The past 25 years have seen the rise of the Basel Convention as a key international environmental instrument which aims at reducing the export of hazardous waste and ensuring that any such waste be managed in a way to protect human health and the environment. There are two interconnected factors that explain why the Convention only partially succeeded in achieving its aims. First, trade issues came into collision with the control system of the Convention, and second, a large majority of countries parties to the Convention did not and still do not possess the capacity to manage the hazardous waste they generate in an environmentally sound way. Throughout its history, parties made constant efforts to keep a balance between environmental protection and trade while implementing the Convention. This resulted in reducing the potential of the Convention to become a universal landmark for the environmentally sound waste management based on principles applicable to hazardous waste. As a consequence, and despite its concrete achievements, the Convention disappeared from the radar screen of politicians and became a technical instrument. The issue of recycling and recovery was never resolved in a satisfactory manner within the scope of the Convention. From an historical perspective, one could witness a loss of influence of the Basel Convention. One reason is that the parties, being preoccupied by the way the Convention would relate to trade, did not invest in exploring its potential to contribute to the emerging green economy movement. However, it might not be too late to face up to this new challenge.