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The Rotterdam Convention on the Prior Informed Consent Procedure for Certain Hazardous Chemicals and Pesticides in International Trade

Opening Remarks

Mr. Klaus Töpfer

Executive Director

United Nations Environment Programme


Madam Chairperson, Mr. Minister, Madam Assistant Director-General of the FAO, Excellencies, Distinguished Delegates, Ladies and Gentlemen.

1. It is my great pleasure to welcome you to the Ninth Session of the Intergovernmental Negotiating Committee of the Rotterdam Convention. You have a great deal to accomplish this week in Bonn, and I am sure you will find the working conditions here in Germany's former parliamentary chamber most suitable to your needs. I would like to begin my remarks by expressing my appreciation to the Government of Germany for hosting us in this elegant conference center that I remember so well from my days as a German minister.

2. My thanks also go to the governments of Canada, Germany, Italy, Madagascar, Norway, Sweden, Switzerland, the United Kingdom and the United States for their financial support to this Convention since your last INC.

3. The Rotterdam Convention is a vital part of the international toolkit for protecting human health and the natural environment from the harmful effects of hazardous chemicals and pesticides. We need to keep it operating efficiently and at full strength at all times. In this way we can ensure that the Convention continues to function as the first line of defense against chemicals hazards.

4. Your commitment to achieving this is reflected in this week's heavy work load. Your agenda focuses on ensuring that the interim prior informed consent procedure continues to work smoothly. You will also be preparing for the first meeting of the Conference of the Parties. As you work on these crucial matters, I believe it is vitally important that you bear in mind three key challenges facing the Convention - challenges you may wish to consider as "themes" for your work this week.

5. The first challenge is promoting ratification so that the Rotterdam Convention enters into force at the earliest opportunity. The second challenge is ensuring that all countries have the technical and financial capacity to implement the Convention's very demanding procedures. This support is essential for raising awareness, promoting compliance, encouraging ratification and building a broad-based membership for the Convention. The third challenge is finding ways of measuring the Convention's effectiveness over time in order to track its progress and demonstrate to people around the world that Rotterdam is making a difference to their lives.

6. Meeting the challenge of ratification is absolutely essential. Four years have passed since your Convention was adopted in Rotterdam, and you still do not have the 50 ratifications needed for entry into force. As of last week, the Convention had been ratified by 33 States, compared with 16 at the time of your previous INC one year ago. This is good news, and means that, after a slow start, your membership has more than doubled in just one year. I note that two workshops on this Convention were organized earlier this year, one in Jamaica for English-speaking countries in the Latin American region, and the other in Senegal for Francophone countries in the African region. These workshops, I believe, played a role in encouraging countries in the target regions to move ahead with ratification, and I am pleased to note that workshops are already scheduled in Iran, for West Asian countries, and in Ukraine, for Central and Eastern European countries, later this year.

7. While I celebrate the gathering momentum towards entry into force, I must also remind Governments that have not been taking steps towards ratification that they risk not being a Party at the first meeting of the Conference of the Parties - a conference that will take a number of important decisions. I therefore urge these Governments to move quickly so that the Conference of the Parties can hold its first session on the basis of widespread and representative participation. For those Governments that have questions or that need support in overcoming barriers to early ratification, your Secretariat remains a resource that you can call upon.

8. A final word on this issue: You will have noted that the Plan of Implementation adopted a few weeks ago by the World Summit on Sustainable Development devoted a good bit of attention to hazardous chemicals. A key message from Johannesburg was that the Rotterdam Convention should enter into force by 2003. Let us then work together to speed up the ratification process so that we can offer the world the benefits of a legally binding PIC procedure in the very near future.

9. The second key challenge facing the Convention is capacity building. The mandatory PIC procedure will only function smoothly if all Parties are able to comply with its requirements. When the Convention enters into force, Article 16 on technical assistance will become operational and actively promote the flow of support to developing countries. But there is no need for a "cold start" to your work on technical assistance. I recall that already at your Conference of Plenipotentiaries in September 1998, the African Group spoke very eloquently of their need for greater capacity building and technical assistance. Concern about capacity is no doubt slowing ratification in some countries. As you discuss this vital issue during the week, you may consider how to move forward with a "technical assistance strategy" that could strengthen assistance during the interim period and then get the Conference of Parties off to a fast start. This strategy might be used to promote ratification, access to additional technical support, and the launching of training workshops in those regions that have not yet benefited from such events.

10. The third broad challenge ahead of you is how to measure and review the Convention's effectiveness. What kinds of performance indicators would do the job best? For example, I would suggest that better monitoring of poisoning incidents around the world would offer very compelling feedback on your work - and provide the kind of information that would be of interest to the general public as well. Certainly, the world's citizens will deem the Rotterdam Convention a success if it leads to fewer incidents of pesticide poisoning, to fewer chemicals accidents, and to a reduction in abandoned stockpiles.

11. Another important, if more technical, performance indicator would surely be the rate of compliance with the PIC reporting procedures. Unfortunately, your compliance numbers are currently not very good, and this problem of late- and non-reporting needs to be urgently addressed. Other data that Parties and the Secretariat could generate as performance indicators include import responses, the number of export notifications sent, and trade volumes. All these data could help track the growing impact of the binding PIC system.

12. Ladies and Gentlemen, I urge you to keep these broad themes in mind as you tackle your Programme of Work this week. Your agenda ranges broadly. In addition to the essential procedural and implementation matters that you will address, I take special note that the Interim Chemical Review Committee has recommended the first new candidate for addition to the PIC list. The listing of the highly toxic pesticide monocrotophos would expand the PIC list to 32. This review process is fundamental and a sure sign that your Convention is functioning as you intended it to. I congratulate all of the expert members of the Review Committee being confirmed here in Bonn, and I applaud their vital contribution to the Convention.

13. Finally, let me conclude with a word about how the Rotterdam Convention fits into the broader picture of environmental protection. Your Convention is a crucial complement to the Basel and Stockholm Conventions. The three conventions work closely together to promote the sound management of chemicals and pesticides throughout their life cycles. Further contributions come from the programmes and activities of the Food and Agricultural Organization, whose partnership with UNEP is, I believe, a major strength for this Convention. The programmes of UNITAR, the OECD and other members of the Inter-Organization Programme for the Sound Management of Chemicals, or "IOMC", also contribute. Implemented cooperatively, these conventions and programmes can provide a comprehensive and systematic approach to chemical hazards.

14. In this context, may I remind you of initiatives by UNEP and its Governing Council for enhancing how the chemicals and waste-related conventions and activities can work together to best effect. You will find your Secretariat's report on these initiatives in your meeting documentation. As work progresses, I will ensure that you are kept fully informed by the Secretariat.

15. Ladies and Gentlemen, the Rotterdam Convention will soon enter into force as one of the "major" multilateral environmental agreements. It is clearly designed to save lives, and to protect health and the environment. But it will require your sustained efforts here this week and at home in your capitals to make this vision a reality. I wish you every success in your work. Thank you.