The adoption of The Future We Want at Rio+20 and its endorsement by the UN General Assembly has reaffirmed the target, set in 2002 at the World Summit on Sustainable Development in Johannesburg, to by 2020 ensure that “chemicals are produced and used in ways that minimize significant adverse impacts on human health and the environment“.

As early as 1989, the Food and Agricultural Organization of the UN (FAO) and the UN Environment Programme (UNEP) introduced a voluntary Prior Informed Consent (PIC) procedure from two earlier instruments, namely the International Code of Conduct on the Distribution and Use of Pesticides, which FAO launched in 1985 (and revised in 2013), and the London Guidelines for the Exchange of Information on Chemicals in International Trade, established by UNEP in 1987 to ensure that governments had the necessary information to assess the risks of hazardous chemicals and to take informed decisions on their future import.

In 1998, an Intergovernmental Negotiating Committee convened by FAO and UNEP concluded its negotiations for a legally binding instrument to apply the PIC procedure, and the text of the Rotterdam Convention on the Prior Informed Consent Procedure for Certain Hazardous Chemicals and Pesticides in International Trade was adopted and opened for signature at the Conference of Plenipotentiaries held in Rotterdam on 10 September the same year.

The Convention entered into force on 24 February 2004 after the 90th day of deposit of the 50th instrument of ratification, acceptance, approval or accession. As of January 2014, the Convention is legally binding for 154 Parties.

A Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) between UNEP and FAO[1] was approved by the second Conference of the Parties in decision RC-2/5, and signed by the Director-General of FAO and the Executive Director of UNEP in December 2005. This MoU sets out the arrangements to perform jointly the Secretariat functions of the Rotterdam Convention. It states that “Each organization will assume the responsibilities as described in this MoU on the basis of their areas of competence, comparative strengths and experience, FAO having primary responsibility for pesticides and UNEP taking primary responsibility for other chemicals, in order to facilitate the mobilization by the Secretariat of the full range of scientific, technical and economic expertise required by the Convention” (General Principles, 1.3).

The joint FAO/UNEP Secretariat of the Rotterdam Convention is an almost unique example of excellent co-operation between two UN agencies.

The Rotterdam Convention shares its ultimate objective of protecting human health and the environment from hazardous substances with the Basel and the Stockholm Conventions. In order to enhance cooperation and coordination among these three multilateral environmental agreements, in 2011, the Conferences of the Parties of the three Conventions decided in three nearly identical synergy decisions to establish a joint head function of the Basel Convention Secretariat, the Stockholm Convention Secretariat and the UNEP part of the Rotterdam Convention Secretariat.

Since 2012 Jim Willis has been Executive Secretary of the Basel, Stockholm and the UNEP part of the Rotterdam Convention, while FAO provides the Executive Secretary for the FAO part of the Rotterdam Convention.

Currently, around 70% of the Annex III listed chemicals, for which the PIC procedure is mandatory, are pesticides. In 2015, the parties to the Rotterdam Convention will consider listing two more pesticides and one severely hazardous pesticide formulation to ensure informed actions can be taken to protect human health and the environment against their harmful effects.

Nine out of the 12 initially recognized persistent organic pollutants (POPs) and six out of ten new POPs of the Stockholm Convention are pesticides, making pesticides also approximately 70% of all listed POPs.

The Basel Convention addresses pesticides in terms of hazardous waste and offers technical guidelines on the environmentally sound management of waste consisting of, containing or contaminated with POP pesticides.

The FAO part of the Rotterdam Secretariat continuously explores opportunities to enhance effectiveness and increase efficiency, in particular in the scientific and technical assistance area, through closer cooperation with the UNEP part and the Secretariat of the Basel and Stockholm Conventions. A first overview of opportunities[2] for further synergies among the Conventions’ Secretariats and the FAO’s Pesticide Programme was submitted in 2013 to the Conferences of the Parties. In 2014 the Conventions’ Secretariats will continue putting these synergies in place.

Examples of synergies activities include ongoing technical assistance and capacity-building activities at the national and regional levels to identify alternatives, in particular for newly listed POPs pesticides and Annex III pesticides. Work is also underway to better include on a national level social dimensions into pesticide risk reduction strategies that could be applicable for all three Conventions. The FAO part of the Rotterdam Convention Secretariat also aims to improve communication and promotion of national synergies among key stakeholders in the implementation of the three conventions via the FAO regional offices.

[1] Memorandum of Understanding between the Executive Director of the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) and the Director-General of the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) concerning the arrangements to perform jointly the Secretariat functions for the Rotterdam Convention оn the Prior Informed Consent Procedure for Certain Hazardous Chemicals and Pesticides in International Trade.