Press releases

Tuesday 21 Mar 2000

Treaty on Persistent Organic Pollutants. Speech by Mr. Klaus Toepfer

Bonn, 20 March 2000 - Statement by Mr. Klaus Toepfer Executive Director United Nations Environment Programme at Fourth Session of the Intergovernmental Negotiating Committee For a Treaty on Persistent Organic Pollutants (INC-4) Convened by the United Nations Environment Programme.

Good morning, Minister Trittin, Lord Mayor Dieckmann, Dr. Buccini, distinguished delegates, and ladies and gentlemen. I extend to you a warm welcome to this important meeting. More than 110 countries are gathered here in Bonn to negotiate a global treaty on persistent organic pollutants.

The main hall of this historic building is filled. Expectations are high. My friends, the reason is clear. It is the well-being of our planet and all living beings. It is the security of future generations. It is the integrity of the chain of life.

This week, you can make a difference for future generations. You can make enormous progress towards reaching agreement on reducing and eliminating the so-called "dirty dozen". We know why we must act. These are toxic substances that last a long time in the air, water, and land. They travel across regions and the world, far from the source of release. They build up in the food chain, and become more concentrated in human beings and whales. They are passed on to the next generation in the womb and breastmilk. Truly travellers without passports.

We know too that the problems are complex. Dioxins from combustion are virtually everywhere in the world. Equipment with polychlorinated biphenyls is aging, and could leak. Stockpiles of unwanted and obsolete stocks of pesticides are piled up and poorly controlled.

Complex problems require coordinated and cooperative action. No one country acting alone can solve this problem. It is a global threat, and it requires a global commitment.

But that is why we are here. The time is ripe for resolution. The Governing Council recognised the urgency by setting a deadline for agreement of this year, the first of the new millennium. Only one more negotiating session remains after this week. It is essential that you work together now to reach agreement and meet this deadline. This is what the people of the world expect. . I am confident you will make excellent progress this week and succeed in your goals because I have seen your work at negotiations in Montreal, Nairobi, and Geneva, and urge you to keep up your hard work out in the same constructive spirit.

One of your most important tasks will be to draft provisions that will enable developing countries and countries with economies in transition to be active partners under the Convention. These provisions will cover both technical assistance and a financial mechanism for providing resources. There are many options and ideas. I have looked at the excellent work of the Implementation Aspects Group and its bureau. There is a solid basis on which to build consensus.

I want to emphasize my concern that countries need to come together on the funding issues. We all understand that the convention will be asking developing countries to shoulder new responsibilities. Where they lack the means to accomplish its goals, we must find a way to work with them.

But we cannot wait for the treaty to be in place. Direct support to these countries has to start in earnest now. This will help ensure that countries can get the tools and build the base for reducing or eliminating releases of persistent organic pollutants. Through the generosity of several donors, UNEP, working closely with the other UN agencies like UNECE, FAO and WHO, has been able to make a start in strengthening capacities. I note too the valuable expertise and experience being freely exchanged between countries. But this is an area that must be greatly strengthened leading up to the Conventionþs entry into force. Our efforts now will help build programmes for POPs reduction or elimination, and the environmentally sound management of chemicals for the long run.

There is an additional advantage -- and wisdom -- to taking direct action now. The period before the convention enters into force is the ideal time to apply creative programmes to meet the needs of developing countries. This approach will generate knowledge and experience. Once the convention enters into force, the Conference of the Parties can draw on this experience to refine the approach taken. I believe your discussions on these issues will be -- and must be -- fruitful. It is a very good sign that all the regional groups spent most of Sunday afternoon meeting to work toward a positive outcome. This spirit of consensus building and compromise is the way forward.

In Geneva, you addressed a number of major issues. You developed a proposed schedule for measures to reduce or eliminate releases of the intentionally produced persistent organic pollutants. You reached consensus on an approach to eliminating production of all 10 intentionally produced POPs, while providing an exemption for DDT to protect public health from vector-borne diseases like malaria.

In addition, you accepted the report on establishing scientific criteria and a procedure for identifying additional pollutants for future action. This part of the treaty will help ensure the flexibility and means for addressing toxic pollutants in the future.

Now you need to continue this progress. Your chair, Dr. John Buccini, has given you a scenario note with a very good set of expectations for outcomes. One core objective is to complete work on Article D, addressing all aspects of the control decisions for the 12 substances: the intentionally produced ones, the unintentionally produced by-products, and managing and disposing of POPs-containing wastes. Here, you need to establish elimination of production as the ultimate goal of the convention for the intentionally produced POPs, with certain limited exemptions. These exemptions could be reviewed at a later date to see if they are still necessary. You also need to determine the most appropriate approaches for dealing with dioxins and furans effectively as well as POPs- containing wastes.

Another of your objectives is to review in depth and make proposals on such matters as national implementation plans; information exchange; public information; awareness and education; and research, development, and monitoring. Finally, there needs to be firm proposals on all of the other remaining aspects of the convention.

The Chairmanþs goal, which I share, is to make the draft of this treaty as complete and final as possible to enable you to take home a nearly finished convention for consultation in your capitals. Of course, not every issue will be resolved, but this 4th INC meeting should enable you to focus on the key handful of issues to be resolved by you at the next session. With this strategy, I believe there can be a final agreement at INC-5 in South Africa this year, and countries can go to Stockholm in May of 2001 prepared to adopt and sign the treaty.

The world is waiting for a global treaty on persistent organic pollutants, and it is watching what you do here this week. The momentum is here. The time for action is now. I am confident you will come together and give the world and generations to come strong and effective safeguards against these poisons.

Your Excellencies, Distinguished Colleagues, Dear Friends:

* May I say how pleased I am to address and participate in this twelfth meeting of the Ministers of the Environment of Latin America and the Caribbean region in Barbados today. This meeting is a symbol of the continuing determination on the part of the governments of this region to address themselves to a fundamental - the fundamental - element of this region's future development.

* For me, personally, there could be no more appropriate place than here, on this continent, before this gathering of friends, to make my formal remarks to this august ministerial gathering. This Ministerial Forum has been built on the basis of friendship and collaboration amongst its members - who share the same goals, commitments and ideals. I recognize many friends in this distinguished audience and I also see some new faces. I extend a warm welcome to all of you.

* I know that this is an important meeting of the Ministers of the Environment of this region. The importance of the Caribbean region to the global environment cannot be underestimated. We all know of its great influence - social, cultural, economic and environmental on the development of the entire region.

* We in the United Nations Environment Programme eagerly look forward to the results of your deliberations. I am confident that your deliberations will touch on some vital issues of the day. I refer in particular to the strengthening of institutional cooperation, exchange of information and identification of priorities for action. Your decisions will not only have impact on the policies of your region. They will also form a valuable input to the deliberations in other international fora as well.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

* The Latin American and the Caribbean region possesses a rich and varied natural resource base. The need to protect its rich biodiversity, numerous scenic sites, ecosystems, habitats and diverse social and cultural groups are only one side of the picture.

* On the other side is an equally important challenge that all of you face daily. And this is the promotion of economic growth, the satisfaction of basic social needs such as health, employment, education, housing of your people along with the conservation and sustainable use of natural resources of the region.

* A regional body like this Forum of the Ministers of the Environment is, thus, not an end in itself. It is an institutional means of reaffirming and reinforcing shared values as well as common interests. It is also an outward expression of inward unity.

* Those who see strong regional cooperation as a rejection of broader global cooperation miss the point that a strong regional architecture is central to our ability to manage and advance a larger global agenda. The new international landscape with the diffusion of economic power, emergence of global environmental problems and the advent of great regional blocs is a manifestation of a global system in which we have become more and more interdependent.

* The danger that we have to guard against is the unravelling of the systems of international cooperation where narrow self-interest and isolationism become the order of the day.

* The importance of strengthening regional cooperation can be seen in the light of the recent environmental disasters that have occurred in this region. I refer in particular to the hurricane Mitch, the loss of large wooded areas from forest fires in Mexico, Central and South America, the extreme flooding in Venezuela and some Caribbean countries and the extreme drought caused by the El Niño phenomenon.

* These events have magnified the environmental fragility of the countries in the region. Beyond the loss of human life, the damage to the physical and productive infrastructure, these natural disasters have setback the economic development of the region.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

* The last Meeting of Ministers of the Environment of Latin America and the Caribbean held in Lima, Peru, identified some priorities for action. These priorities are included in the Environmental Action Plan. The priorities are environmental management, participation of the citizens, making trade and environment mutually supportive, environmental education and training, integrated environmental management of coastal zones, oceans and watersheds, biological diversity and protected areas and climate change.

* To develop activities in order to implement these priorities, the Forum of Ministers decided to establish an Inter-agency Technical Committee which included UNEP, UNDP and the Inter-American Development Bank, ECLAC and the World Bank.

* The establishment of this Inter-agency Technical Committee is a landmark achievement of this Forum. And, it could serve as an example of coherent and efficient institutional collaboration which leads to the sharing of human, financial and institutional capacities.

* I would like to express my deep gratitude to all the members of the Technical Committee. Their dedication and commitment have made this instrument a successful reality.

* Under the umbrella of this Committee, several actions have been jointly implemented in support of the Environmental Action Plan. For example, the technical report on territorial bio-regional basis for planning; the assistance to countries affected by Hurricane Mitch, Georges and flooding in Venezuela; the establishment of an Environmental Unit for Regional Coordination in Central America; the establishment of the Regional Coordinating Unit for Latin America and the Caribbean of the UN Convention to Combat Desertification; the study on policy, law and the management of biosafety in the region.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

* We have before us a great opportunity to strengthen a new strategy. This strategy is based on the formulation and implementation of an environmental programme of action in which one of the central points is international cooperation.

* The advantage of this approach, from our point of view, will be:

 

  • Greater capacity of our institutions to address the environmental priorities of the region;
  • Consistent coordination among governmental agencies, non-governmental organizations and international institutions;
  • Greater cost effectiveness and more responsibility and transparency in response aimed at solving the environmental problems of the region; and
  • More flexible access to respond to requests on a timely and effective basis.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

* I am very happy that the countries of this region are participating actively in the efforts to protect the ozone layer. 32 of the 33 countries have ratified the Montreal Protocol with Haiti being the only exception. The countries are implementing vigorously the projects to phase-out the CFCs with the help of the Multilateral Fund. We recognise the excellent work of the national ozone focal points. I urge you, the Ministers and high officials here to support and encourage the work of your Ozone Officers in phasing out the CFCs. You should also expedite the ratification of the different Amendments to the Protocol by your countries. Your formal ratification of these Amendments will add strength to your efforts to protect the ozone layer. While the Multilateral Fund has been enormously successful in giving the resources, I would like to emphasize the importance of regulations and policy measures to reduce and phase-out the CFCs in your industries. I urge you to expedite the introduction of the necessary policies in your countries.

* On behalf of UNEP, I would like to assure you that our full institutional capacity will be employed to work towards achieving the objectives that bring us together here today, and particularly the implementation of the environmental programme of action for the conservation and sustainable use of natural resources of the region.

Tuesday 21 Mar 2000
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