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THIS PAGE WAS UPDATE ON: 01/18/02

A BRIEF INTRODUCTION TO CHEMICAL MANAGEMENT

SUMMARY:  

Over the years, the global community has addressed a number of issues regarding the transboundary movement of  chemicals and their management, including through negotiated agreements.  Two recent efforts that stem from the 1992 UN Conference on Environment and Development (UNCED) are the negotiation of the convention on prior informed consent (PIC), which was signed in 1998, and the commencement in 1998 of negotiations for an agreement on persistent organic pollutants (POPs).  The Earth Negotiations Bulletin has covered the PIC and POPs negotiations plus the IFCS (see ENB Archives).  This brief introduction focuses on the PIC and POPs negotiation processes.

PIC NEGOTIATIONS:  

Growth in internationally traded chemicals during the 1960s and 1970s led to increasing concern over pesticides and industrial chemical use, particularly in developing countries that lacked the expertise or infrastructure to ensure their safe use.  This prompted the development of the International Code of Conduct for the Distribution and Use of Pesticides by the FAO and the London Guidelines for the Exchange of Information on Chemicals in International Trade by UNEP.  Both the Code of Conduct and the London Guidelines include procedures aimed at making information about hazardous chemicals more readily available, thereby permitting countries to assess the risks associated with their use. 

In 1989, both instruments were amended to include the voluntary Prior Informed Consent (PIC) procedure to help countries make informed decisions on the import of chemicals that have been banned or severely restricted.  Managed jointly by the FAO and UNEP, the PIC procedure is a means for formally obtaining and disseminating the decisions of importing countries on whether they wish to receive future shipments of such chemicals.  The aim is to promote a shared responsibility between exporting and importing countries in protecting human health and the environment from the harmful effects of certain hazardous chemicals being traded internationally.  The voluntary PIC procedure is designed to:

* help participating countries learn more about the characteristics of potentially hazardous chemicals that may be imported;

* initiate a decision-making process on the future import of these chemicals; and

* facilitate the dissemination of these decisions to other countries.

Delegates to the 1992 United Nations Conference on Environment and Development (UNCED) recognized that the use of chemicals is essential to meet social and economic goals, but also acknowledged that a great deal remains to be done to ensure the sound management of chemicals. Chapter 19 of Agenda 21, the programme of action adopted by UNCED, contains an international strategy for action on chemical safety.  Paragraph 19.38(b) calls on States to achieve by the year 2000 the full participation in and implementation of the PIC procedure, including possible mandatory applications of the voluntary procedures contained in the amended London Guidelines and the International Code of Conduct.

In November 1994, the 107th meeting of the FAO Council agreed that the FAO Secretariat should proceed with the preparation of a draft PIC Convention as part of the FAO/UNEP Programme on PIC in cooperation with other international and non-governmental organizations.  In May 1995, the 18th session of the UNEP Governing Council adopted decision 18/12, which authorized the Executive Director to convene, together with the FAO, an intergovernmental negotiating committee with a mandate to prepare an international legally binding instrument for the application of the PIC procedure. A diplomatic conference for the purpose of adopting and signing such an instrument was originally to be convened in 1997.

The Prior Informed Consent (PIC) Convention:  Between March 1996 and March 1998, delegates met five times as an Intergovernmental Negotiating Committee (INC) to draft the Convention on the Prior Informed Consent Procedure for Certain Hazardous Chemicals and Pesticides in International Trade (PIC Convention).  Participation varied from more than 194 delegates from 80 governments, the European Commission, a number of specialized agencies, IGOs and NGOs at INC-1 to over 300 delegates from 102 countries at INC-3.  The INC agreed upon the text of the PIC Convention (summary) that was presented to the Diplomatic Conference in Rotterdam, in September 1998.  It also developed a draft resolution on interim arrangements before the Convention's entry into force. 

At the Conference of Plenipotentiaries on the PIC Convention in Rotterdam, Ministers and senior officials from nearly 100 countries adopted the Final Act of the Conference, the PIC Convention and the resolution on interim arrangements. Sixty-one countries signed the PIC Convention, while 78 countries signed the Final Act.   The Convention will remain open for signature at United Nations Headquarters from 12 September 1998 to 10 September 1999.  It will enter into force 90 days after receipt of the 50th instrument of ratification.

The PIC Convention is a means for formally obtaining and disseminating information so that decisions can be made by importing countries as to whether they wish to receive future shipments of certain chemicals and for ensuring compliance with these decisions by exporting countries.  The Convention promotes shared responsibility between exporting and importing countries in protecting human health and the environment from the harmful effects of such chemicals and provides for the exchange of information about potentially hazardous chemicals that may be exported and imported.  A key goal of the PIC Convention is to provide technical assistance for developing countries and countries with economies in transition to develop the infrastructure and capacity necessary to implement the provisions of the Convention.  The PIC Convention will initially cover 22 pesticides and five industrial chemicals, but it is expected that many more will be added as the provisions of the Convention are implemented.  Governments have agreed to continue to implement the voluntary PIC procedure during the interim period using the new procedures contained in the Convention until the Convention formally enters into force.

The sixth session of the Intergovernmental Negotiating Committee (INC-6) for an international legally binding instrument for the application of the PIC procedure for certain hazardous chemicals and pesticides in international trade was held from 12-16 July 1999 in Rome. The first meeting since the adoption of the Rotterdam Convention, INC-6 gathered approximately 300 delegates from 121 countries to address arrangements for the interim period prior to entry into force of the Convention and implementation of the interim PIC procedure. INC-6 resulted in the adoption of outline draft decisions on the definition and provisional adoption of PIC regions, the establishment of an interim Chemical Review Committee (ICRC) and the adoption of draft decision guidance documents (DGDs) for already identified chemicals. Delegates also considered the activities of the Secretariat during the interim period and their budgetary implications, preparations for the Conference of the Parties (COP), the status of signature and ratification of the Convention, the location of the Secretariat and issues arising out of the Conference of Plenipotentiaries, including support for implementation, dispute settlement, illicit trafficking, and responsibility and liability.

The resolution on interim procedures, adopted along with the Convention at the Conference of the Plenipotentiaries, allowed the INC to continue work on the modalities of operating the COP and has positioned the Convention for a “fast start.” The success of INC-6 should provide a strong foundation for bringing the voluntary PIC procedure in line with the procedure as set out in the Convention and for encouraging ratification of the Convention.

 

POPS NEGOTIATIONS:  

Growth in the use of certain chemicals in industry or as pesticides increased dramatically during the 1960s and 1970s.  Many of these chemicals are important to modern society but can also pose a serious threat to human health and the environment.  In particular, a certain category of chemicals known as POPs has recently attracted international attention.  POPs are chemical substances that are persistent, bioaccumulate and pose a risk of causing adverse effects to human health and the environment.  A growing body of scientific evidence indicates that exposure to very low doses of certain POPs - which are among the most toxic substances ever created - can lead to cancer, damage to the central and peripheral nervous systems, diseases of the immune system, reproductive disorders, and interference with normal infant and child development.  With the further evidence of the long-range transport of these substances to regions where they have never been used or produced and the consequent threats they now pose to the environment worldwide, the international community has called for urgent global action to reduce and eliminate their release into the environment. 

Prior to 1992, international action on chemicals primarily involved developing tools for risk assessment and conducting international assessments of priority chemicals.   For example, in 1989 UNEP amended their London Guidelines for the Exchange of Information on Chemicals on International Trade and the FAO established the International Code of Conduct for the Distribution and Use of PesticidesAgenda 21, adopted at the 1992 UN Conference on Environment and Development, included Chapter 19 on the “Environmentally Sound Management of Toxic Chemicals Including Prevention of Illegal International Traffic in Toxic and Dangerous Products,” which called for the creation of an Intergovernmental Forum on Chemical Safety (IFCS).  The Inter-Organization Programme on the Sound Management of Chemicals (IOMC) was also established to promote coordination among international organizations involved in implementing Chapter 19.

In March 1995, the UNEP Governing Council (GC) adopted Decision 18/32 and invited the IOMC, together with the International Programme on Chemical Safety (IPCS) and the IFCS, to initiate an assessment process regarding a short-list of 12 POPs, taking into account the circumstances of developing countries and countries with economies in transition.  The assessments of the chemicals were to include available information on their chemistry, sources, toxicity, environmental dispersion and socio-economic impacts.  The IFCS was further invited to develop recommendations and information on international action to be considered by the 1997 sessions of the UNEP GC and the World Health Assembly (WHA). 

In response to this invitation, UNEP convened an Ad Hoc Working Group on POPs that developed a workplan for the assessment of these 12 substances, which was subsequently adopted by the second meeting of the Inter- Sessional Group (ISG2) of IFCS in March 1996, held in Canberra, Australia.  The Ad Hoc Working Group reported to the IFCS meeting of June 1996 in Manila, the Philippines.  The meeting concluded that sufficient information existed to demonstrate that international action, including a global legally binding instrument, is required to minimize the risks from 12 specified POPs through measures to reduce and/or eliminate their emissions and discharges.

Consequently, IFCS recommended to the UNEP GC and the WHA that immediate international action should be taken.  In February 1997, the UNEP GC adopted Decision 19/13C endorsing the conclusions and recommendations of the IFCS.  The GC requested that UNEP, together with relevant international organizations, prepare for and convene an intergovernmental negotiating committee with a mandate to prepare an international legally binding instrument for implementing international action, beginning with the 12 specified POPs.  The first meeting of the INC was also requested to establish an expert group for the development of science-based criteria and a procedure for identifying additional POPs as candidates for future international action. Also in February 1997, the second meeting of the IFCS, held in Ottawa, Canada, decided that the IFCS Ad Hoc Working Group would continue to assist in the preparations for the negotiations. In May 1997, the WHA endorsed the recommendations of the IFCS and requested that the WHO participate actively in negotiations of the international instrument.  Most recently, the UNEP GC, held in May 1998, again highlighted the beginning of the UNEP POPs negotiations.

The first session of the Intergovernmental Negotiating Committee (INC-1) for an International Legally Binding Instrument for Implementing International Action on Certain Persistent Organic Pollutants (POPs) met from 29 June-3 July 1998 in Montreal, Canada.  Representatives of over 100 governments gathered to negotiate an international agreement to minimize emissions and releases of POPs such as DDT and PCBs into the environment.  The negotiations also address the accumulation of unwanted and obsolete stockpiles of pesticides and toxic chemicals, particularly in developing countries.  The INC is focusing on a list of twelve POPs grouped into three categories:

1) pesticide POPs: aldrin, chlordane, DDT, dieldrin, endrin, heptachlor, mirex and toxaphene;

2) industrial chemical POPs: hexachlorobenzene and polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs); and

3) POPs that are unintended byproducts: dioxins and furans.

An expert group to develop science-based criteria for identifying other POPs that may require international action was also established.  

The first session of the Criteria Expert Group (CEG-1) for POPs was held from 26-30 October 1998 in Bangkok, Thailand. Over 100 delegates from approximately 50 countries met in Plenary to consider the programme of work of the CEG, including the development of science-based criteria for identifying additional POPs as candidates for future international action. Concurrently with discussions on criteria, delegates considered the development of a procedure for identifying additional POPs, including the information required at different stages of the procedure and what body would nominate, screen and evaluate a substance as a potential future POPs candidate. Several contact groups were also convened to discuss specific issues and report back to Plenary. The outcome of CEG-1 will be reported to the second session of the Intergovernmental Negotiating Committee for an International Legally Binding Instrument for Implementing International Action on Certain Persistent Organic Pollutants (INC-2) in January 1999, and the CEG will continue its work at its next session in the first half of 1999.

The CEG is an open-ended technical working group with a mandate to present to the INC proposals for science-based criteria and a procedure for identifying additional POPs as candidates for future international action. The process should incorporate criteria pertaining to persistence, bioaccumulation, toxicity and exposure in different regions and should take into account the potential for regional and global transport including dispersion mechanisms for the atmosphere and the hydrosphere, migratory species and the need to reflect possible influences of marine transport and tropical climates. This work is to be completed and submitted to the INC at or before its fourth session.

Having expected a relatively small meeting of around 40-60 experts, the Thai hosts of CEG-1 were not the only ones surprised when over 100 delegates arrived in Bangkok, forcing quick adjustments to the host government�s reception on the first evening. Indeed, the high level of interest in the work of the CEG was clear evidence of the importance attached to its mandate of developing science-based criteria and a procedure for identifying additional POPs as candidates for the future international convention. The unexpected size of the group may have been a factor in the slow start of the proceedings, but by the end of five days the CEG had made substantial headway on both the question of criteria and the establishment of a procedure.

The third meeting of the Intersessional Group (ISG-3) of the Intergovernmental Forum on Chemical Safety (IFCS) was held from 1-4 December 1998 in Yokohama, Japan. ISG-3 brought together approximately 135 participants representing 46 countries, intergovernmental organizations (IGOs), United Nations agencies and both industry and public interest non-governmental organizations (NGOs). Throughout ISG-3, delegates met in several Plenary and working group sessions to address three thematic areas: risk assessment; obsolete chemicals and pesticides; and capacity building. They also addressed a range of other topics, including: emerging issues such as endocrine disrupters, persistent organic pollutants (POPs) and chemicals of international concern other than POPs; harmonization of classification and labelling; NGO participation in IFCS; and matters to be carried forward to Forum III. Regional groups and NGOs convened meetings in preparation for ISG-3 on 30 November and also met periodically during ISG-3.

ISG-3 resulted in approximately twenty-five agreed action items and recommendations on risk assessment, obsolete chemicals and pesticides, capacity building, harmonization of classification and labelling, support for NGO participation in Forum activities, preparations for the third meeting of the IFCS (Forum III), longer term issues, funding and the year 2000 computer problem (Y2K).

The second session of the Intergovernmental Negotiating Committee (INC-2) was held from 25-29 January 1999 in Nairobi, Kenya.  Delegates from over 100 countries, as well as representatives from UN agencies, environmental non-governmental organizations (NGOs), intergovernmental organizations (IGOs) and industry, convened to further consider possible elements of an international legally binding instrument on an initial list of twelve POPs grouped into three categories.

After general discussions in Plenary on a Secretariat- prepared expanded outline of an international legally binding instrument, delegates divided into Negotiation and Implementation Groups that met in parallel sessions. The Negotiation Group examined the text of the expanded outline and the Implementation Group discussed possible needs for technical and financial assistance.

Overall, many delegates characterized INC-2 as a success. Given the early stages of the negotiation process, this success can perhaps be attributed to preexisting global consensus on the hazards of POPs and the solid foundation from which negotiations began. In the Negotiation Group, delegates completed preliminary discussions on measures to reduce or eliminate releases of POPs into the environment, identified by many as the pivotal article of the future POPs convention. Reflecting its importance to the convention, significant time and energy was dedicated to "healthy discussions" on the issue. The general discussions held in the Implementation Group resulted in an initial consensus on possible capacity building activities requiring technical and financial assistance that will provide the basis for developing articles on these issues.

The second session of the Criteria Expert Group (CEG-2) for POPs met from 14-18 June 1999 at the Vienna International Center in Austria. Approximately 140 participants representing 60 countries attended the meeting to build upon the work of CEG-1 in the development of scientific criteria and a procedural process for adding other POPs to the initial list of 12 identified for global action. In the warm climes and high culture of host city Vienna, delegates to CEG-2 found the inspiration they needed to undertake their work in what was by and large a harmonious and well-orchestrated performance. The CEG succeeded in completing its work in two rather than three sessions, well ahead of its deadline, as agreement was quickly reached on many key issues. The final report will be forwarded to the third session of the Intergovernmental Negotiating Committee for an International Legally Binding Instrument for Implementing International Action on Certain Persistent Organic Pollutants (INC-3), which will meet from 6-11 September 1999 in Geneva.

The third session of the International Negotiating Committee (INC-3) was held from 6-11 September 1999 in Geneva, Switzerland. Delegates from over 110 countries, as well as representatives from UN agencies, non-governmental organizations (NGOs), intergovernmental organizations (IGOs) and industry, convened to continue preparation of an international legally binding instrument on an initial list of 12 POPs grouped into three categories.

INC-3 made advances on language for articles on measures to reduce or eliminate releases, national implementation plans, the process for adding chemicals, and information exchange, and continued discussion on technical and financial assistance. It also made great strides in placing chemicals in the prohibition and restriction annexes. A legal drafting group completed text on 15 procedural articles of the convention. While INC-3 built upon the successes of INC-2, the pace of progress slowed a bit as divergent positions hindered movement on several key issues such as obligations and technical and financial assistance. This change from INC-2 indicates that delegates have now shifted gears from discussing general concepts and framing the issues to negotiating the actual text of a future convention to manage, reduce and/or eliminate certain persistent organic pollutants.

Last Updated: 02/00