The Secretariat of the Stockholm Convention
The Stockholm Convention on Persistent Organic Pollutants is an international treaty that aims to protect human health and the environment from chemicals that remain intact in the environment for long periods, become widely distributed geographically and accumulate in the fatty tissue of humans and wildlife. Those heavily polluting chemical substances are known as Persistent Organic Pollutants or POPs. The Convention requires parties to take measures to eliminate or reduce the release of POPs into the environment.
||Keywords: United National Environmental Programme (UNEP); Stockholm Convention on Persistent Organic Pollutants; Environmental Protection; Chemicals; Secretariat; Multilateral Environmental Agreements
POPs are organic chemicals substances which possess a particular combination of physical and chemical properties that are dangerous for the environment because:
It is known that exposure to POPs can lead serious health effects including certain cancers, birth defects, dysfunctional immune and reproductive systems, greater susceptibility to disease and even diminished intelligence. Given their long range transport, no one governing acting alone can protect its citizens or its environment from POPs.
- They remain intact for exceptionally long periods of time (many years);
- Become widely distributed throughout the environment as a result of natural processes involving soil, water and, most notably, air;
- Accumulate in the fatty tissue of living organisms including humans, and are found at higher concentrations at higher levels in the food chain; and
- Are toxic to both humans and wildlife.
The Stockholm Convention on Persistent Organic Pollutants was adopted in 2001 and entered into force in 2004 and at present there are 168 States Parties. The Convention is administered by the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) and its secretariat is based in Geneva, Switzerland. The Convention is governed by the Conference of the Parties which meets every two years, and there are number of subsidiary bodies that carry out a variety of functions under the Convention, with the most prominent being the Persistent Organic Pollutants Review Committee (POPRC).
Recent developments: Additional of nine new chemicals to the Stockholm Convention
The chemicals targeted by the Stockholm Convention are listed in the annexes of the Convention text. Annex A lists the chemicals that should be subject to measures envisaging its elimination by the Parties. Annex B lists chemicals that should have their production and use restricted by the Parties. Annex C lists chemicals that should be subject to measures aiming to reduce unintentional releases with the goal of continuing minimization.
Any Party may submit proposal for listing a new chemical in Annex A, B or C of the Convention. The POPs Review Committee evaluates the proposal and makes recommendation to the Conference of the Parties on such listings.
Originally twelve POPs have been recognized by the Stockholm Convention as causing adverse effects on humans and the ecosystem. These substances became known as the "dirty dozen". They can be placed in three categories:
At the fourth meeting of the Conference of the Parties to the Stockholm Convention, held between 4 and 8 May 2009, the Parties decided by decisions SC-4/10 to SC-4/18 to amend annexes A, B and C of the Stockholm Convention in order to add nine additional chemicals:
- Pesticides: aldrin, chlordane, DDT, dieltrin, endrin, heptachlor, hexachlorobenzene, mirex, toxaphene;
- Industrial chemicals: hexachlorobenzene, polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs); and
- By-products: hexachlorobenzene; polychlorinated dibenzo-p-dioxins and polychlorinated dibenzofurans (PCDD/PCDF), and PCBs.
- Pesticides: chlordecone, alpha hexachlorocyclohexane, beta hexachlorocyclohexane, lindane, pentachlorobenzene;
- Industrial chemicals: hexabromobiphenyl, hexabromodiphenyl ether and heptabromodiphenyl ether, pentachlorobenzene, perfluorooctane sulfonic acid, its salts and perfluorooctane sulfonyl fluoride, tetrabromodiphenyl ether and pentabromodiphenyl ether; and
- By-products: alpha hexachlorocyclohexane, beta hexachlorocyclohexane and pentachlorobenzene.
The nine chemicals that were added to the Stockholm Convention at the 4th Conference of the Parties (COP4) is a proof that the mechanism of the Stockholm Convention is able to expand by incorporating other chemicals. This is very relevant and important to the ensure that the international control of chemicals substances can expand based on existing mechanisms such as the existing multilateral environmental agreements.
The COP 4 was the first opportunity to consider expanding the scope of the Convention based on the POPs Review Committee (POPRC) process, as described in the text of the convention. In fact, the recommendation to list nine new chemicals to Annexes A, B or C of the Stockholm Convention was the result of four meetings of the POPRC since the entry in force of the Convention.
Some of the substances that were incorporated in the annexes of the Stockholm Convention were chemicals that are no longer in production, known as the 'dead chemicals'. Despite this fact, it was noted that the negotiations for the incorporation of new chemicals would represent technical and economical challenges for developing countries. Therefore a consensus was built based on a decision that also agrees on enhancing financial and technical assistance for the new chemicals.
In a time that the Stockholm Convention is enhancing cooperation with the Basel and the Rotterdam Conventions in order to improve the international management of chemicals and wastes substances, a trustful and efficient mechanism addressing risks identified in chemicals is an important pillar of the international environmental governance.
Tarcisio Hardman Reis
The Stockholm Convention on Persistent Organic Pollutant, May 23, 2001, entered into force May 17, 2004, UN Doc. UNEP/POPS/CONF/4, App. II (2001), reprinted in 40 ILM 532 (2001).
Status of Ratification of the Stockholm Convention available at http://chm.pops.int/Countries/StatusofRatification/tabid/252/language/en-US/Default.aspx.
Details on the work of the POPRC available at http://chm.pops.int/Convention/POPsReviewCommittee/AboutPOPRC/tabid/221/language/en-US/Default.aspx.
For further information see What are POPs?, available at http://chm.pops.int/Convention/ThePOPs/tabid/673/language/en-US/Default.aspx.
For further information see The nine new POPs under the Stockholm Convention, available at http://chm.pops.int/Programmes/NewPOPs/The9newPOPs/tabid/672/language/en-US/Default.aspx.
See T. Hardman Reis, The Secretariat of the Basel Convention ASIL RIO REPORT, August 2009, available at http://asil.org/rio/basel_sum09.html.
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