International rules on dumping of wastes at sea to be strengthened with entry into force of 1996 Protocol
A significant milestone
for the protection of the marine environment will be reached on 24 March 2006
with the entry into force of the 1996 Protocol to the Convention on the Prevention
of Marine Pollution by Dumping of Wastes and Other Matter, 1972, following its
ratification today (Wednesday, 22 February) by Mexico, the 26th country to do
The 1996 Protocol
represents a major change of approach to the question of how to regulate the use
of the sea as a depository for waste materials in that, in essence, dumping is
prohibited, except for materials on an approved list. This contrasts
with the 1972 Convention which permitted dumping of wastes at sea, except
for those materials on a banned list.
of Mexico to the United Kingdom, His Excellency Señor Juan José
Bremer CVO, deposited his country's instrument of ratification at IMO Headquarters
in London on 22 February 2006.
Efthimios E. Mitropoulos welcomed the ratification.
the requisite number of ratifications has been received, the 1996 Protocol will
enter into force, thus achieving another major milestone for the marine environment.
The application of the Protocol's precautionary approach will have a significant
impact on the protection of the marine environment from dumping at sea,"
Mr. Mitropoulos said.
The 1996 Protocol
enters into force 30 days after ratification by 26 countries, 15 of whom must
be Contracting Parties to the original 1972 treaty. The 1996 Protocol was adopted
in November 1996 and will supersede (replace) the 1972 Convention "as between
Contracting Parties to this Protocol which are also Parties to the Convention".
This means, in practice, that both instruments will be in force in parallel for
some time, but the momentum will gradually shift to the Protocol as more and more
parties ratify it.
to the 1996 Protocol will be invited to attend their first Meeting under the Protocol
from 30 October to 3 November 2006, in conjunction with the 28th Consultative
Meeting of the Parties to the London Convention, planned in the same week.
One of the
first key issues for discussion under the 1996 Protocol is likely to be a review
of the compatibility of CO2 capture and storage in sub-seabed geological structures,
as part of a suite of measures to tackle the challenge of climate change and ocean
acidification. In preparation for the discussion on how best to facilitate and/or
regulate such activities under the Protocol (and the London Convention), a number
of options will be developed - to clarify and, if appropriate, amend the Protocol
- at an intersessional meeting on the related legal and administrative aspects
to be held at IMO in April 2006.
and advantages of the 1996 Protocol
The 1996 Protocol reflects a more modern and comprehensive agreement on protecting
the marine environment from dumping activities than the original 1972 Convention
and reflects the broader aims to protect the environment in general, emanating
from Agenda 21, the global plan of action for sustainable development adopted
by the 1992 United Nations Conference on Environment and Development (UNCED),
in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, also known as the 1992 Earth Summit.
The 1996 Protocol introduces (in Article 3) what is known as the "precautionary
approach" as a general obligation. This requires that "appropriate
preventative measures are taken when there is reason to believe that wastes
or other matter introduced into the marine environment are likely to cause harm
even when there is no conclusive evidence to prove a causal relation between
inputs and their effects." The article also states that "the polluter
should, in principle, bear the cost of pollution" and it emphasizes that
Contracting Parties should ensure that the Protocol should not simply result
in pollution being transferred from one part of the environment to another.
Convention permits dumping to be carried out provided certain conditions are
met, according to the hazards to the marine environment presented by the materials
themselves. The 1972 Convention includes a "black list" of materials
which may not be dumped at all.
Protocol is more restrictive. It states (in Article 4) that Contracting Parties
"shall prohibit the dumping of any wastes or other matter with the exception
of those listed" (in Annex 1 to the Protocol). These materials include:
waste, or material resulting from industrial fish processing operations
and platforms or other man-made structures at sea
inorganic geological material
material of natural origin
items primarily comprising iron, steel, concrete and similar harmless materials,
for which the concern is physical impact, and limited to those circumstances
where such wastes are generated at locations, such as small islands with
isolated communities, having no practicable access to disposal options other
The 1996 Protocol's geographical coverage is wider, as it also governs storage
of wastes in the seabed, as well as the abandonment, or toppling, of offshore
installations (Article 1).
Although the internal waters of a State are excluded from the dumping provisions
under both the Convention and Protocol, Parties to the Protocol have the option
to apply its rules to their internal waters if they wish (Article 7).
other international agreements
The Protocol contains better linkages with other international environmental
agreements which have been developed since 1972, for instance, through its ban
on export of wastes for dumping purposes (Article 6) in relation to the Basel
Convention on the Control of Transboundary Movements of Hazardous Wastes and
The 1996 Protocol is more pragmatic in its orientation towards commonly generated
wastes rather than contaminants. It is, therefore, more clear in what is and
what is not permitted for dumping at sea, making it easier for Administrations
Key provisions of the step-wise assessment procedure are included in Annex 2
to the Protocol. All permits and permit conditions have to comply with these
provisions. The Convention only referred to consideration of comparable factors
listed in its Annex III, without showing how these fit together.
The protocol places more emphasis on compliance than the Convention: has a Party
complied with the key provisions of the Protocol? How effective are its policies
to protect the marine environment?
Article 11 requires the Meeting of Contracting Parties, no less than two years
after the Protocol's entry into force, to establish those procedures and mechanisms
necessary to assess and promote compliance with the Protocol. The Meeting may
then offer advice, assistance or co-operation to Contracting Parties and non-Contracting
Parties. Initial work has already begun to develop these procedures and mechanisms.
The 1996 Protocol includes a transitional period provision (Article 26) assisting
new Parties towards gradually achieving full compliance over a maximum period
of five years (certain conditions apply).
Article 13 on technical co-operation and assistance requires Contracting Parties,
through collaboration with the Organization and in co ordination with other
competent international organizations, to promote bilateral and multilateral
support for the prevention, reduction and, where practicable, elimination of
pollution caused by dumping as provided for in the Protocol, to those Contracting
Parties that request it.
The tasks of the Meeting of Contracting Parties (Article 18) and duties of IMO
are better described than in the Convention. Unlike the original treaty, the
Protocol establishes clearly the depositary duties of the IMO Secretary-General
and spells out the Secretariat duties necessary for the administration of the
The Protocol includes arrangements for the settlement of disputes between Parties
in its annex 3, whereas the 1978 amendments to the Convention on the same issue
never entered into force.
Amendments to the
Articles to the Protocol shall enter into force "on the 60th day after
two-thirds of Contracting Parties shall have deposited an instrument of acceptance
of the amendment with the
Organization" (IMO). Amendments to the annexes are adopted through a tacit
acceptance procedure under which they will enter into force not later than 100
days after being adopted. The amendments will bind all Contracting Parties except
those which have explicitly expressed their non-acceptance.
of wastes at sea
Incineration of wastes at sea was initially permitted under the 1972 Convention,
but this practice was ended in 1991 and is specifically prohibited by article
5 of the 1996 Protocol. Incineration at sea of industrial waste and sewage sludge
had already been prohibited under the 1993 amendments to the 1972 Convention.
5, 22 February 2006
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