Making the invisible visible
An interview with Rolph Payet, executive secretary of the Basel, Rotterdam & Stockholm conventions
The Basel, Rotterdam, and Stockholm (BRS) conventions aim to protect human health and the environment from hazardous chemicals and waste. They are legally binding, almost global in their geographical coverage, and administered by United Nations Environment Program in Geneva. I recently caught up with the conventions’ Executive Secretary Rolph Payet to find out more.
Marit Fosse: You are a former minister of environment and energy for the Seychelles. Please tell us, how has your island upbringing shaped your professional career?
Rolph Payet: I am born and raised in the Seychelles, a group of islands more than a thousand miles from any landmass. This feeling of isolation, in environmental terms, indeed came to an end when tonnes of wastes were continuously washed up on some of our inhabited islands, chemicals like DDT found
in Indian Ocean whales, and the wonderful red sunsets during certain times of the year, which presumably arise from air pollution on the continents. So you can say, this is what prompted me to come to Geneva.
Geneva this year celebrates 100 years of multilateralism, and with reason, as the city hosts hundreds of organizations and many conventions leading to a positive impact on our planet. With 187, 161, and 182 parties to the three conventions— Basel, Rotterdam, and Stockholm—the coverage really is global.
MF: What does the slogan “Making the Invisible Visible” represent?
RP: Not many consumers know that only 9% of their electronic wastes are actually recycled, and that millions of tonnes of those end up in parts of Africa where children break them up and are thus exposed to toxic chemicals. The modern consumer raids the supermarket and the high streets every day, removes plastic packaging, and throws it away. Cumulatively, such unnecessary packaging becomes millions of tonnes! We live in artificially created bubbles where we are not—currently—accountable for our footprint on the planet. It is one thing to pay for an environmental levy on a product and feel exonerated of our environmental responsibilities, and another to see it turn up in the backyard of someone less fortunate, doing them harm, or eventually into our food systems, doing harm to us.
MF: Why is it important for people to be aware of hazards from chemicals and waste?
RP: First, informed people can make better decisions as to their purchasing and disposal habits, and second, they can then play an important role in ensuring the government and private sector do what is necessary to ensure that measures to recycle wastes, for example, are properly undertaken.
Studies have confirmed that implementation of our conventions and national laws, especially environmental laws, is improved when citizens are well armed with information.
MF: Take marine plastic. What is happening with the recent groundswell of public awareness on that?
RP: A great example indeed! Governments have recognized and responded to this heightened sensitivity around this issue, be it the large number of countries which have introduced and are now enforcing bans on single-use plastic bags, such as Kenya, or the many countries collectively throwing human and financial resources into international processes aiming at tackling this global problem in a coordinated and connected manner.
For example, Norway has been quite instrumental in providing international leadership, and also financial resources… In fact, a growing group of countries, both in the developed and developing world, are calling for clear and tangible action on the issue of plastics. It is one area, they declare, that we have had enough talk—we now need impactful action. For this reason, I am very excited that the meeting of the conference of the parties to the Basel Convention will be considering a range of concrete actions to address this issue, including a proposal for more comprehensive coverage of the plastic wastes moved across borders.
To learn more about the Basel, Rotterdam, and Stockholm conventions, visit www.brsmeas.org or follow @brsmeas on Twitter.
This article originally appeared in the April 19, 2019, issue of The Norwegian American.