UN Under-Secretary-General and
Executive Director, UNEP
How the international community manages its response
to both the challenges and the opportunities presented
by chemicals and wastes enters a new era this year.
Over the coming months the three principle treaties in the
area the Basel, Rotterdam and Stockholm conventions
will streamline their operations and actions in new
and potentially far-reaching ways. All three will adopt
decisions, as part of reform measures, to enhance cooperation
and coordination, maximizing their collective
impact and so improving human health.
These new governance arrangements will be launched at
the Fifth Meeting of the Conference of the Parties to the
Stockholm Convention on persistent organic pollutants
in Geneva in late April. They will then be agreed at the
Rotterdam Convention in the same city in June and the
Basel Convention in October in Cartagena, Colombia.
Among many other key issues to be decided at the
Stockholm meeting is whether to list endosulfan an
insecticide, more than half a century old and which is
banned in at least 60 countries because of health and
other concerns. If it is, it will join a catalogue of some 22
persistent organic pollutants controlled under the treaty.
Meanwhile, endosulfan is being considered under the
Rotterdam Convention along with chrisotile asbestos
and some other chemicals for inclusion in the prior
informed consent procedure which requires exporting
Parties to obtain the support of importing ones for
shipments of chemicals listed in its Annex III.
And if endosulfan is added to the Stockholm Convention, the Basel
Convention will be requested to draw up waste management guidelines
The example demonstrates how unlike the past, where decisions
might be taken in a vacuum a more comprehensive and joined-up
series of actions relating to chemicals and wastes is beginning to get
All this may seem prosaic to an outsider. But it offers an opportunity to
align these important treaties in ways that can produce better chemicals
and waste management within and beyond national borders.
Similar evolutions the result of decisions taken by governments in
Bali, Indonesia, last year include appointing a single head to oversee
the running of the three treaties and sharing administrative services
which may free-up funds to be invested in more projects on the
These reforms come little more than a year before governments
meet for the UN Conference on Sustainable Development (Rio+20)
to be held two decades after the Rio Earth Summit that has set the
contemporary sustainable development course ever since. Its two
themes are Green Economy in the context of poverty eradication
and sustainable development and an Institutional Framework for
It has long been clear that the growth of multilateral environmental
agreements has, in its current configuration, imposed increasing
strains and complexity on the compliance and participation of many
At the same time, fragmentation can undermine the effectiveness of
the overall effort for sustainable development and lead to duplication
and a less than efficient use of scarce financial resources.
The chemicals and wastes agenda also echoes the social outcomes of
the Green Economy in terms of prospects for decent employment and
improvements in human health and well being, which are key elements
in the Safer Planet campaign spearheaded by the three treaties.
During UNEPs last Governing Council, ministers of environment
underlined that the status quo including the existing management
and effectiveness of current institutions was not an option.
Proposals for reforming international environmental governance are
now part of the global discussions in advance of the Rio+20 conference
The closer working relationship between the chemicals and waste
agreements, and the fresh directions it will bring, offers a way forward
to redressing these shortfalls between ambition and action.
They are part of the overall urgency in accelerating and scaling up a
definitive and decisive shift towards achieving a low carbon, resourceefficient
global economy for all.