40th anniversary of the adoption of the Convention on the Prevention of Marine Pollution by Dumping of Wastes and Other Matter (London Convention)

IMO Headquarters, 30 October 2012
Excellencies, President of the IMO Assembly, Madam Chen, Chairperson of the Seventh Joint Session of the Contracting Parties to the London Convention and the London Protocol,
Distinguished delegates, ladies and gentlemen,
It is a great pleasure for me to welcome you to this celebratory event to mark the 40th anniversary of the adoption of the London Convention.  IMO, too, has a good reason to feel happy and proud, because, although strictly speaking the London Convention, when adopted, was not an IMO instrument, it is now an intrinsic part of the Organization and IMO has been performing the Secretariat duties and functions for the past 35 years, since 1977, following agreement by the IMO Assembly.
We all know the London Convention was one of the first international agreements for the protection of the marine environment from human activities.  Its importance was widely recognized from the outset, as evidenced by the fact that it entered into force very quickly, in August 1975, less than three years after it was adopted in November1972.
For hundreds of years, the seas and oceans had been used as a convenient, free-for-all rubbish dump to dispose of many millions of tonnes of all kinds of wastes that were piling up on land – sludge from the dredging of ports and rivers, sewage sludge, chemical industry residues, ash from power stations, and many other unwanted wastes. 
The ability of the oceans to cope was taken for granted.  Little or no thought was given to what the cumulative effects might be of longer-term pollution of the sea on marine life and marine biodiversity, not to mention on the safety of seafood for human consumption.
This mentality of ‘out of sight out of mind’ could not continue, however.
The London Convention is a true testament to the willingness of the nations of the world to protect our global oceans with the required sense of urgency. 
The London Convention Parties have virtually eliminated the unregulated dumping of wastes and their incineration at sea which had been carried out in the late 1960s and early 1970s.  They eliminated dumping of certain types of waste and, gradually, made this regime more restrictive by promoting sound waste management and pollution prevention.  Amendments that were adopted in 1993 and entered into force a year later brought in a total ban on the dumping into the sea of low-level radioactive wastes.  In addition, by 31 December 1995, they phased out the dumping of industrial wastes and banned the incineration at sea of industrial waste and sewage sludge.
The London Convention Parties had the foresight to completely overhaul the regulatory approach of the Convention in order to stay in tune with contemporary environmental thinking espoused through UNCED, the United Nations Conference on Environment and Development held in Rio de Janeiro in 1992.  They thus adopted, in 1996, the Protocol to the London Convention.  The London Protocol embraced the ‘polluter pays’ and ‘precautionary’ principles that were finding their way into mainstream environmental protection regulations.  Consequently, the Protocol has evolved into the prohibition of all dumping of wastes into the sea, with very few exceptions.  As you know, this approach is known as the ‘reverse list’: rather than stating which materials may not be dumped, it prohibits all dumping, except for possibly acceptable wastes on the ‘reverse list’, which is contained in an annex to the Protocol. 
The Protocol entered into force in 2006, and, to date it has 42 Contracting Parties.  But, make no mistake: if we are to build on the legacy of the London Convention, it is imperative for the Protocol to eventually replace the 1972 Convention, and it must do so, because it represents a radical and desired change of approach to the question of how to control and regulate the disposal of wastes into the sea.
It is for this reason that it is so important to embrace the London Protocol as the natural and complete successor to the London Convention.  The Protocol not only builds on the Convention’s achievements, it also propels the regulatory framework into the future and addresses new environmental challenges such as increased ocean acidification and marine geo-engineering activities that have the potential to harm the marine environment.
I therefore urge all member governments to ratify the London Protocol.  This will extend the coverage of the London Convention and enhance the protection of the marine environment.
Distinguished guests,
I commend the London Convention and Protocol Parties for their significant regulatory achievements.  Moreover, they have developed, over time, a wealth of practical experience regarding marine pollution prevention issues, pushing the boundaries of scientific knowledge, fine-tuning risk and impact assessment, interpreting the Convention’s and Protocol’s provisions, and handling licensing, compliance and field monitoring activities. 
Furthermore, a technical co-operation and assistance programme has been established to assist with capacity building for waste assessment and management, and with the development of national regulations for implementation and compliance purposes.
In concluding my remarks, I wish to say this:
When I look back at the range and importance of successes achieved, I am proud to acknowledge that IMO has given the London Convention a home for almost the entire life period of the Convention.  The IMO Secretariat will continue to meet the demands that the Convention and Protocol parties deserve, by making available high quality staff dedicated to environmental protection and ocean health, timely provision of expert advice, effective and efficient servicing of Meetings with top-class conference facilities to continue to hold the important meetings of Parties and their subsidiary bodies.
Once again, with all of you present here, we have every reason to be in a celebratory mood today.
I wish you all the best of luck in your on-going and future work, once again congratulations, and enjoy the reception in the delegates’ lounge after we complete this formal part of the evening!
Thank you.