Toepfer’s Speech at the Stockholm Convention Debut Meeting

Ladies and Gentlemen,

I first must give my thanks to the Government of Uruguay for hosting this conference.

May I also thank the Government of Switzerland for its generous support.

It is a great pleasure to be here in Punta del Este to celebrate the first meeting of the Conference of the Parties to the Stockholm Convention on Persistent Organic Pollutants (POPs).

Punta del Este and Uruguay have a real track record in delivering solid and important outcomes in internationally important agreements.

For it was here that the Uruguay Round of negotiations started which led to the establishment of the World Trade Organization.

The first Montevideo Programme led to the development of guidelines on environmentally-sound transport, management and disposal of hazardous wastes.

This laid the ground work for the Basel Convention whose first Committee of the Parties was held just down the road from here 13 years ago in Piriapolis.

Punta del Este is also a good choice because it reminds us of some of the key reasons why this Convention was and is so urgently needed.

Opposite this peninsula is one of the biggest sea lion colonies in the world.

It was the contamination of marine mammals and thus the presence of POPs in the human food chain of indigenous peoples that were among the first alarm bells, waking the world to the threats of these long lived, hard to break down, hazardous chemicals.

The chief bell ringer is also in the audience here today.

Shelia Watt-Cloutier has tirelessly campaigned on behalf of the Inuits and on behalf of the world to get POPs banned.

In UNEP’s chemicals unit in Geneva we proudly display a grey-green soap stone statue of an Inuit Madonna and child.

It was given to us by Shelia.

Only a few weeks ago in New York, we returned the long over due favour by making her one of our first UNEP Champions of the Earth.

Next day she was in Oslo to receive the prestigious Sophie Prize.

These awards are very much for her campaigning against POPs and for the health and human rights of people in the High North, for people everywhere.

It also underlines the vital work civil society has and continues to play in making governments accountable and in raising important issues on behalf of the public at large.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

If you have been in the United Nations system as long as I have you are constantly told by the doom and gloom merchants that global cooperation to solve international and regional issues is waning.

That multilateralism is going out of style. May even be dead.

The Stockholm Convention is living proof that this is far from the case (A nice word would be poppy-cock).

And there are other examples. In a few short months we will have the first Committee of the Parties to the Kyoto Protocol on climate change meeting in Canada.

These conventions conventions, agreements and initiatives do not live in a vacuum.

As already mentioned, the Stockholm Convention links very closely to the Basel Convention.

Indeed, it is a delight to see how closely these two conventions are working together for example in the area of POPs waste guidelines.

We need more of this “synergy” and clustering of activities among the Multilateral Environmental Agreements (MEAs) if we are to streamline International Environment Governance.

Stockholm also dovetails with the Rotterdam Convention of Prior Informed Consent. It also came into force recently. (Further proof that multilateralism lives!!).

They also must echo to the Strategic Approach to Chemicals Management (SAICM), a regional meeting of which was held here in this very building last week.

And other health-related topics such as the decisions taken on heavy metals, like mercury and lead, taken at UNEP’s 23rd Governing Council last February.

If we are to deliver the chemicals component of the World Summit on Sustainable Development’s Plan of Implementation by 2020 we must look again at how we handle chemicals.

Here in Punta del Este delegates will move forward on terms of reference for the POPs Review Committee.

It has to evaluate and propose new POPs for the Convention.

Over the next decade and a half the global production of chemicals is set to increase by 85 per cent.

Therefore ticking off and listing chemicals one by one seems a tough task to put it mildly.

At this rate, we may have the ‘dirty two dozen’ only well into the next century!!

So we must discuss and look closely to see if there are better ways of assessing and guaranteeing that the chemicals we have are safe.

That they are produced and used in such a way that they do not adversely affect human health.

We also need to look more carefully at the wider environmental and sustainable development issues.

In New York, in September, we will have the summit-level review of the Millennium Development Goals and the reform proposals of the UN Secretary-General.

This, ladies and gentlemen, is a very important meeting and has significance for the environment and for the chemicals agenda and beyond.

The Millennium Project, coordinated by Professor Jeffrey Sachs, has now produced its advice to the Secretary-General on how to meet the poverty reduction and other targets by 2015.

Its Task Force report on Goal 7—Ensuring Environmental Sustainability—makes it clear that the environment is the red ribbon running through all the Goals.

In respect of chemicals, let me mention just one part of the report which is on pages five and six of the summary version.

“Many of today’s emergent or resurgent diseases such as encephalitis, dengue fever and malaria are on the rise because of human disruption to ecosystems,” it states.

The report goes further.

It links issues like uncontrolled urbanization in forests, deforestation and habitat destruction and climate change with the rise in a wide range of old and new diseases.

These include mosquito-borne infections like malaria which kills up to two million people a year.

UNEP is right behind the Stockholm Convention’s provision allowing the use of DDT for the control of disease-carrying mosquitoes.

We are right behind initiatives by the World Health Organization, governments and others to boost the availability of treated mosquito nets, medicines and vaccines to reduce the need for DDT.

But we are also convinced that to defeat malaria.

To eventually fully phase out POPs like DDT.

And to meet Millennium Development Goal 6 on combating disease.

This will require action to conserve and restore the Earth’s rapidly declining ecosystems and to fight climate change beyond the targets set for 2012.

One of our closest allies in this striving for a healthier, safer and more just world is the Global Environment Facility (GEF).

In Larger Freedom, the secretary-general’s report for the September meeting, talks about the Montreal Protocol as a shining example of global action on the environment.

And so it is.

We identified the chemicals attacking the Earth’s ozone layer; we acted as a world with common but differentiated responsibilities to phase them out.

We have listened, and continue to listen, to those seeking exemptions in cases where it appears there are currently no alternatives.

And, importantly, we had the financial mechanism to help developing countries meet their responsibilities.

The GEF is now helping to realize the aims of the Stockholm Convention.

Projects either underway or in the pipe-line include helping some 100 national governments draw up POPs implementation plans.

And one to help developing countries reduce their use and find safer alternatives for six of the 12 Stockholm Convention chemicals currently deployed for termite control.

I would urge governments to give full and sufficient funds to the GEF in this replenishment year so it can carry on and expand its very vital work.

It would be further proof, if proof is needed, that multilateralism remains at the centre of our collective prosperity, security and delivery of a more stable world.


 

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