Several international agreements related to the protection of transboundary watercourses against pollution are in existence. These include the 1992 United Nations Economic Commission for Europe Convention on the Protection and Use of Transboundary Watercourses and International Lakes; the 1997 United Nations Convention on the Law of Non-navigational uses of International Watercourses and the 1992 United Nations Economic Commission for Europe Convention on the Transboundary effects of Industrial Accidents. However, to date, there are no clear rules on liability and responsibility for this type of pollution.
But now the issue is on the agenda and the meeting comes in the aftermath of the occurrence of two major accidents in Europe: a new accidental dumping of 20,000 tons of lead and other metals from a mine in Northwestern Romania and a deadly cyanide spill have polluted the Tisza River. One of these accidents entered the Danube international water system, killing millions of fish and other wildlife. These accidents and other recent cases of pollution of international watercourses and of the coastal areas in Europe have brought to the surface once again, the question of who should be held liable for clean-up and repair of such damages.
"The Swiss proposal to put this item on the agenda is particularly timely and of great importance to the protection of the environment", said Klaus Toepfer, Executive Director of the United Nations Environment Programme. "There has to be a clear understanding of the problems with rules which require the polluter to pay for remedying the damage that has been caused to the environment.
"Liability is only effective where polluters can be identified, damage is quantifiable and a causal connection can be shown. Establishment of a liability regime includes improved implementation of key environmental principles - that the polluter should pay, prevention and precaution - and use of existing environmental laws. Mr. Toepfer said.
Under the Basel Convention on Transboundary Movement of Hazardous Wastes 1989, the Protocol on Liability and Compensation for Damage Resulting from Transboundary Movements of Hazardous Wastes and their Disposal, concluded in December 1999, has opened up for successful developments and conclusions of activities going on in the international arena in the field of liability and compensation for damages caused to the environment.
For more information, please contact:
Tore J. Brevik,
UNEP Spokesman and Director of Communications and Public Information,
P. O. Box 30552, Nairobi, Kenya;
tel.: (254-2) 623292; fax: 623692;
UNEP News Release 00/34