The talks, held from 25-29 January at United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) headquarters in Nairobi, are the second in a series of five anticipated negotiating sessions to reach a global agreement on POPs by the year 2000, the deadline embodied in the UNEP Governing Council mandate issued in 1997.
"The threat to human health and the environment from POPs is a global problem requiring global action," said UNEP Executive Director Klaus Toepfer. "I am confident that the constructive progress made this week in Nairobi during the second round of talks on a global treaty will produce a legally binding agreement by the year 2000 that will help safeguard people worldwide from these dangerous pollutants and protect generations to come."
More than 350 delegates from 103 countries gathered for the talks this week, agreeing to a draft text as the working basis for discussions of all substantive articles. They explored from technical and policy perspectives, issues involved in restricting and/or eliminating the 12 POPs listed in the UNEP mandate as well as scientific criteria for identifying other POPs for inclusion in the agreement. They also examined issues associated with implementation, including capacity building, technology transfer, and financing, which are key to the ability of nations to fulfil their responsibilities under the future treaty. The draft text and meeting report will serve as the basis for the third round of talks, tentatively set for September or October 1999.
The talks have focused on provisions to reduce and/or eliminate emissions, production, and uses of the POPs in the initial list identified for action under the UNEP mandate and how to ensure that all countries can successfully implement the provisions. The 12 POPs under debate are: aldrin, chlordane, DDT, dieldrin, dioxin, endrin, furans, heptachlor, hexachlorobenzene, mirex, polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs), and toxaphene. The 12 "dirty dozen" fall into three categories: pesticides, industrial chemicals, and unintended by-products of combustion and industrial processes.
Negotiators also have agreed that the treaty must have criteria and a procedure to add new POPs to the convention. A Criteria Expert Group was established at the first round of talks in Montreal and met in Bangkok, Thailand in October 1998 where it reached early consensus on proposed scientific criteria, and plans to meet again later this year to continue its work.
Fueling the negotiations is worldwide concern about risks from POPs to human health and the ecological support system on which life depends. One of the key issues is the growing number of obsolete and uncontrolled stockpiles of pesticides and toxic chemicals from decades ago. Another is the need to reduce reliance on DDT while fully protecting public health from malaria.
POPs pose a danger to human health and the environment globally due to a unique combination of factors. They are highly toxic, last for a long time in the environment, and travel long distances far from the source of emission. Further, they accumulate in fatty tissues of living organisms, undergoing bioconcentration and biomagnification as they move up the food chain. The global nature of the problem means that no one country can solve the problem.
At a UNEP reception 26 January sponsored the International POPs Elimination Network, Mr. Toepfer awarded certificates and pins to the first contributors to the POPs Club, created to help finance the negotiations. The POPs Club is a creative financing mechanism that seeks to promote contributions to a trust fund from a broad range of donors, including governments and intergovernmental and non-governmental organizations.
The Nairobi meeting is formally known as the Second Session of the Intergovernmental Negotiating Committee (INC-2) for an International Legally Binding Instrument for Implementing International Action on Certain Persistent Organic Pollutants. It built on the foundation for a treaty laid at the First Session of the Intergovernmental Negotiating Committee (INC-1) held in Montreal, Canada, from 29 June to 2 July 1998.
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For more information or to arrange interviews, please contact:
Linda Durkee UNEP Chemicals, Geneva
at tel: (+41-22) 917- 8511, fax: (+41-22) 797-3460;
or Tore J. Brevik,
Director, UNEP Information and Public Affairs,
tel: 254-2 623292, fax: 254-2 623927.
UNEP News Release 1999/8