Statement of John Buccini, Chairman,
UNEP Intergovernmental Negotiating Committee on
Persistent Organic Pollutants (POPs)
Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works
Mr. Chairman and members of the Committee. My name is John Buccini and I am here today, in response to your invitation, in my capacity as Chairman of the UNEP Intergovernmental Negotiating Committee that developed the Stockholm Convention on Persistent Organic Pollutants (POPs). Recognizing that I am here primarily to respond to any questions that the Committee may pose, I will confine my opening remarks to a few observations about the treaty and its development.
The Stockholm Convention has as its objective, the protection of human health and the environment from POPs. It was developed in response to an acceptance by the international community of the need to take collective global action to reduce and/or eliminate the generation and release of POPs. This acceptance was based on the recognition that the continued generation and release to the environment of POPs is not a sustainable practice as once released into the environment, POPs undergo widespread environmental distribution through natural processes, contaminate environmental media and living organisms including the food chain, persist for very long periods of time, and pose a threat to present and future generations of both humans and wildlife.
The process of developing the convention was initiated in May 1995 by the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP). In March 1996, an agreement was reached that there was sufficient scientific evidence available to justify taking immediate international action on POPs. This agreement has underpinned and given a sense of urgency to the efforts made by stakeholders from all sectors of society including governments, intergovernmental organizations, nongovernmental organizations (including both industry and public interest groups) and aboriginal groups.
The activities involved in developing the convention have resulted in a broad acceptance of the urgent need for action in countries around the world. This is demonstrated by the fact that less than one year after the convention was opened for signature in Stockholm on May 23, 2001, 128 countries and the European Community have signed the treaty and 7 have become Parties through ratification or accession. Another indicator is the number and nature of the actions that stakeholders are taking to address the risks posed by POPs. Based on an annual UNEP survey of representatives of all stakeholder groups, about 110 countries are already active in taking action to address POPs and actions are also being taken by the public, industry and aboriginal and public interest groups around the world. As an example, the International POPs Elimination Network was established during the negotiation of the treaty and today includes over 400 public interest groups from countries around the globe with programs to address POPs issues at the local, national, regional and international levels. This is indeed encouraging to note.
Let me now turn to the convention itself. In my view, there are three key provisions in the treaty – the controls on twelve POPs, the evaluation of future candidates for addition to the treaty, and financial and technical assistance for developing countries and countries with economies in transition.
The control provisions of the convention address three areas: intentionally produced POPs, unintentionally produced POPs, and POPs in stockpiles and wastes.
For intentionally produced POPs (industrial chemicals and pesticides), the goal of the convention is to eliminate their production and use and measures are specified for 10 chemicals. To prevent the introduction into commerce of new POPs, Parties with regulatory and assessment schemes for industrial chemicals and pesticides will, in conducting assessments of new substances, take “measures to regulate with the aim of preventing the production and use of” new POPs. In assessing the risks posed by in-use substances, Parties will consider the screening criteria for candidates for addition to the Convention (specified in Annex D) to identify, at the earliest opportunity, candidates for further consideration.
For unintentionally produced POPs (byproducts of industrial and combustion processes, such as dioxins and furans) the convention goal is the continuing minimization and, where feasible, the ultimate elimination of the total releases of such POPs derived from anthropogenic sources. An approach has been developed that enables each country to define its priorities, develop a national action plan within two years of entry into force of the convention, and then implement the plan.
For stockpiles and wastes, the goal is to ensure the environmentally sound management of stockpiles that consist of or contain intentionally produced POPs, and of wastes, including products and articles upon becoming wastes that consist of, contain or are contaminated with intentionally or unintentionally produced POPs. Measures are specified to prevent the reuse or recycling of POPs and to manage these materials to prevent releases to the environment of POPs during storage, handling, transport or disposal activities.
The second major provision is a science-based approach to systematically identify and review future candidate chemicals for addition to the convention. The process and scientific criteria for this provision are specified in the convention and a POPs Review Committee will be established at the first meeting of the Conference of the Parties to evaluate nominations submitted by Parties. Considerable attention was paid to the need for openness and transparency in this process to ensure that all candidates will be fully and fairly evaluated.
In the third major provision, the convention specifies that developing countries and countries with economies in transition will need technical and financial assistance and that regional and subregional centres will be established for capacity building and the transfer of technology to assist countries in need. Developed countries have agreed to provide technical assistance and new and additional financial resources to meet agreed full incremental implementation costs. The Global Environment Facility is named as the principal entity of the interim financial mechanism to handle funding of capacity building and other related activities. Financial support has already begun to flow and an estimated 50 countries have already initiated action to prepare their national plans to implement the convention. This is indeed encouraging.
In my view, the Stockholm Convention represents a significant advance in protecting health and the environment from what many regard as the most toxic chemicals that have ever been produced. There is a high level of interest and activity among all stakeholder groups in the POPs area and I expect that this will continue into the future. In this regard, I am pleased to note that you have invited both industry and environmental non-government organizations to appear before you during this session.
The current rapid pace of signature and ratification of the convention augurs well for continued international action on POPs. The convention will enter into force 90 days after 50 Parties have ratified it. Many contend that the urgent nature of POPs problems warrants expedited entry into force and concerted, collective actions to address these problems and their solutions. Some stakeholders have urged governments around the world to ratify the POPs treaty prior to the Johannesburg Summit in August of this year.
In closing, I wish to state my hope that the United States will be among the Parties attending the first Conference of Parties, given the important decisions that must be taken at that meeting to implement the convention and the role that the United States can play in these matters. I look forward to the United States being a full and effective contributor in implementing the new international controls on POPs under the Stockholm Convention. I note that the United States government is proceeding in an expeditious manner to ratify and implement the convention and I am pleased to be here today to provide any information that may be of assistance in that process.