27 April 2015
Informing the Informers: Bettering Understanding of an Information-Provision Chemicals Convention
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As Parties to the Rotterdam Convention on the Prior Informed Consent Procedure for Certain Hazardous Chemicals and Pesticides in International Trade convene as part of a ‘Triple Conference of the Parties (COP)' meeting in May, an e-course has been launched to support the Convention's goals of protecting the environment and human health from hazardous chemicals.

As Parties to the Rotterdam Convention on the Prior Informed Consent Procedure for Certain Hazardous Chemicals and Pesticides in International Trade convene as part of a ‘Triple Conference of the Parties (COP)’ meeting on 4-15 May 2015, an e-course has been launched to support the Convention’s goals of protecting the environment and human health from hazardous chemicals.

The e-course from InforMEA, a project of the UN Environment Programme (UNEP) Information and Knowledge Management Initiative, is meant to brief delegates as well as other interested stakeholders in advance of what will be the seventh meeting of the Conference of the Parties (COP 7) to the Rotterdam Convention and to support implementation of the Convention well into the future.

This policy update explores how improving understanding of the Rotterdam Convention’s goals and provisions, particularly how new chemicals are nominated for inclusion in the Convention, and how the Convention fits together with the other chemicals and wastes conventions, will help delegates relay information to countries that may be importing hazardous chemicals.

The e-course covers the Rotterdam Convention’s rationale, history, provisions and synergies process with the Stockholm Convention on Persistent Organic Pollutants and the Basel Convention on the Control of Transboundary Movements of Hazardous Wastes and their Disposal. While chemicals are integral to economies and societies, as the e-course explains, some countries lack capacity to manage, store and use some chemicals safely. More chemicals are produced today than ever before, underlining the need to empower countries to manage them in way that protects human health and the environment.

The Rotterdam Convention acts as a “first line of defense” by providing information on chemicals and enabling countries to decide if they wish to allow imports of those hazardous chemicals and pesticides listed in the Convention. The e-course clearly outlines the Prior Informed Consent (PIC) Procedure, which allows Parties to decide if they wish to import a chemical listed in Annex III of the Convention and communicates these Import Responses to all other Parties.

The Rotterdam Convention’s effort to mitigate the potential negative effects of chemicals does not occur in a vacuum. The chemicals and wastes cluster is a highly-cooperative collection of multilateral environmental agreements (MEAs), holding their meetings back-to-back-to-back during Triple COPs, and sharing a Secretariat. The last unit of the e-course is a useful primer on the synergies process, including its history and current status. This information is valuable to anyone interested in enhancing international cooperation among multilateral environmental agreements.

Yet, the exercise of the Triple COPs can, at times, ask delegates to perform some diplomatic acrobatics. Delegates move from one Convention to the next and, as the e-course explains, engage in “joint sessions on joint issues.” This requires in-depth understanding of each Convention and their nuances: for instance, the Rotterdam Convention does not have regional centres, while the Stockholm and Basel Conventions do, and only the Basel Convention has a compliance procedure (the e-course explains that the Rotterdam Convention Parties are seeking a solution to this issue). InforMEA e-courses are also available for the Basel and Stockholm Conventions and are useful to help keep the particular provisions and the unique goals of the three Conventions straight.

In the past, during sessions of the Triple COPs delegates have at times conflated the goals of the Conventions. The e-course underlines that the information provision and PIC procedure do not constitute a ban on the global trade or use of specific chemicals, which is a useful reminder to delegates participating in COP 7. In past meetings, delegates have shown confusion over this point, and at times objected to listing some chemicals in the Convention because they did not want them banned from international trade or use (the Stockholm Convention can constitute a restriction or ban on production and use). During COP 6, this argument was particularly prevalent during discussions of paraquat and chrysotile asbestos, neither of which were ultimately listed in the Convention. [1] Promoting understanding of what the PIC procedure and information provision mean, in terms of labelling and Import Responses, can help facilitate listing of chemicals in the Convention and make them subject to the PIC procedure.

The e-course explains that chemicals are discussed by the COP after being recommended by the Rotterdam Convention Chemical Review Committee. The Committee reviews the notifications from Parties that a chemical has been subject to final regulatory action, and agrees to recommend that the chemical be considered for inclusion in the Convention. The e-course carefully outlines the process for notifications of chemicals and severely-hazardous pesticide formulations (SHPFs) and provides links to the relevant sections of the Convention. For notifications, two countries from two different PIC regions (as listed in the Convention) must notify the Rotterdam Secretariat that they have taken final regulatory action to ban or severely restrict a chemical for health or environmental reasons. SHPFs, on the other hand, require a single proposal from a developing country, or country with an economy in transition, experiencing health or environmental problems due to the pesticide formulation.

This information helps the Rotterdam Convention remain a living Convention, one that continues to provide information about chemicals of current concern. The Chemical Review Committee has encountered fewer notifications that meet the criteria in recent years. Only recently was the first SHPF proposed, when Burkina Faso put forward paraquat to the Chemical Review Committee in 2012. [2] If countries do not bring forward notifications or SHPF proposals, the CRC has a declining workload and, in turn, the Rotterdam Convention is not able to include new chemicals that are currently traded and possibly causing health and environmental effects. By providing this information in a clear format, the e-course can help demystify the process of notifications and proposals and be part of the effort to encourage Parties to bring forward chemicals for inclusion in the Convention.

The Rotterdam Convention seeks to empower developing countries and countries with economies in transition to manage the chemicals entering their borders. By providing information on the Rotterdam Convention, the e-course facilitates the Convention’s ultimate goal of providing information to protect the environment and health from hazardous chemicals.

[1] IISD-RS Daily Coverage of the Rotterdam Convention 7 May 2013.

[2] IISD-RS Summary Report of the Tenth Meeting of the Chemical Review Committee.

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