Thursday, January 26, 2006

From Nairobi to Delhi

During last week's Conference on Labour and the Environment hosted by UNEP in Nairobi, the French former Aircraft-carrier Clémenceau, now an Asbestos- and PCB-carrier which is on its way to India for dismantling, has been present in the minds, and in the speeches of several delegates.

Indeed it can be seen as a test-case par excellence of the ability of the international community to come to grips with global Environment/Labour issues in an equitable as well as environmentally and socially responsible way.

It is also a test-case of the willingness to enforce a multilateral environmental agreement like the Basel Convention on the Transboundary Movements of Hazardous Wastes.

In this regard, the French argument that the convention does not apply because the Clémenceau is a military vessel, is plain absurdity:

First, France is sending an irresponsible message: "if you have inconvenient wastes to dispose of, ship them on board a military vessel and this will do the trick".

Second, in the late 1980s when several countries wanted to dump their decommissioned nuclear submarines at sea, an Ad-Hoc Legal Working Group of the London Convention under the auspices of the UN International Maritime Organization (IMO) clearly established that once it is decommissioned, the carcass of a military vessel no longer enjoys the privileges it may be entitled to under international law when it was in operation.

Looking at today's editorial in "The Hindu", India's second largest newspaper, it looks like the message from Nairobi has travelled all the way to Delhi:

"The trade union movement in India is sometimes criticised for not pursuing, post-independence, a broad social agenda that goes beyond jobs and short-term benefits for members. Affordable universal housing, sanitation, water supply, free and compulsory school education, and protection of the natural environment and forests have proved difficult to achieve in the absence of 'pressure from below' of the kind unions could exert. Environmental protection, the UNEP points out, can no longer be seen as an undue burden on business and industry. Likewise, heavy and polluting industries — of which manual breaking of toxin-laden ships at Alang is a notorious example — must not be allowed in the name of keeping jobs. It is not true either, as delegates heard in Nairobi, that conservation of the environment poses a threat to employment. Concern is mounting that unrestrained economic activity may be having an adverse impact on natural phenomena, heightening the severity of drought, floods, cyclones, and hurricanes, all of which threaten production and jobs. India's trade unions must recognise these concerns and use their wide support base to work for sustainable development that will benefit all."

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