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Global summit on toxic chemicals moves forward

By the CIEL Chemicals Team

Geneva  –  April 29, 2011.  Over 160 countries reached agreement to phase out endosulfan, a dangerous pesticide still used around the world.  The Stockholm Convention on Persistent Organic Pollutants lists 21 other chemicals that are toxic, long-lasting, and prone to accumulate in the food chain and in people.

The decision was strongly resisted by India, which is one of a small number of countries still producing endosulfan.  In the end, consensus was achieved by granting a renewable, five-year exemption for use on specific pests and crops.  In addition, developed countries agreed to provide technical and financial assistance specifically for the transition from endosulfan to safer alternatives.

On another contentious issue, the 5th meeting of the Conference of the Parties (COP5) revisited a decision from the previous meeting in 2009, when two brominated flame retardants used in consumer electronics, furniture and other products were added to the Stockholm Convention.  At the time, the European Union and other developed countries won an exemption that allows the export and recycling of used products that contain these chemicals.  Under the original treaty signed ten years ago, the recycling of materials containing these and similar types of chemicals was forbidden because they would further contaminate the waste stream, endangering human health and the environment.

The treaty’s expert review committee presented a report with dozens of recommendations for closing these loopholes.  At COP5, Kenya, on behalf of the African Group and supported by several other Parties, proposed to ban such exports to prevent additional contamination from the wave of discarded computers, cell phones, and other electronic goods from wealthy countries.  After strong, divergent positions were established by southern and northern countries, a weak compromise was brokered that merely discourages Parties from exporting such wastes to developing countries.

The difficulty of achieving consensus on key matters is exacerbated by the long-standing disagreement over the rules of procedure that guide deliberations under the Stockholm Convention.  Under rules adopted at the first session, decisions on “all matters of substance” (other than treaty amendments) are to be made by consensus.  As it stands, the provision to permit decision-making by a two-thirds majority vote of Parties present and voting remains inoperative, because agreement on voting itself requires consensus.

Nonetheless, the negotiations yielded progress on other issues to improve the effectiveness of this international accord, which was adopted ten years ago.

Recognizing that global action is needed to eliminate these global pollutants, the Stockholm Convention pledges financial assistance to developing countries.  “Developed and developing countries came to a pragmatic understanding on how to work towards matching technological needs with know-how, emphasizing non-chemical alternatives such as agro-ecological practices,” said Baskut Tuncak, CIEL staff attorney.  However, the costs to developing countries of complying with the treaty are estimated to exceed available resources by a factor of ten.  In the end, there was no meaningful agreement on how to narrow this funding gap.

In addition, some progress was made to coordinate the Stockholm Convention with two other international treaties on trade in dangerous chemicals and hazardous wastes.  This is intended to reduce the costs of complying with and administering these agreements, and fashioning a more coherent approach to managing chemicals worldwide.

For the past 10 years, Parties have been unable to agree on the establishment of a compliance mechanism for the treaty.  In this regard, Parties aim to bridge their differences during the interim period before the next meeting in 2013.

In its closing statement, the European Union announced their intent to nominate hexachlorobutadiene, pentachlorophenol, and chlorinated napthalanes for listing under the Stockholm Convention.

Contact:
Daryl Ditz, Director, Chemicals Program, Washington, DC,  dditz@ciel.org

Baskut Tuncak, CIEL Staff Attorney, Washington, DC, btuncak@ciel.org

David Azoulay, CIEL Managing Attorney, Geneva, dazoulay@ciel.org

Marco Perantuono, CIEL Legal Intern, Geneva, marco.perantuono@gmail.com

Additional Information:

CIEL preview of the Stockholm Convention COP5: https://intlenvlaw.wordpress.com/2011/04/22/cop5-preview/ 

CIEL Chemicals Website:  http://www.ciel.org/CIEL/Chemicals_Program/index.html

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