Pesticide Action Network Updates Service (PANUPS)
A handful of countries--led by the U.S. and Australia--brought negotiation of an international treaty to eliminate persistent organic pollutants (POPs) to a near standstill at a recent meeting in Bonn, Germany. Delegates from 121 countries met in late March for the fourth of five sessions to draft a treaty targeting POPs, starting with an initial list of 12 chemicals including nine pesticides.* At the session's end, the draft treaty text remained riddled with "bracketed" (contested) language reflecting key unresolved issues as government delegates head toward final negotiations this December in Johannesburg, South Africa.
The three main areas of contention are (1) whether the treaty's ultimate goal will be elimination, rather than management of POPs; (2) whether the precautionary principle will be integrated into the treaty in a meaningful way; and (3) whether industrialized countries will agree to a binding financial commitment to support developing countries and countries with economies in transition to implement the treaty. The financial commitment issue was clearly the most contentious. At one point in the negotiations, the U.S. delegation offered a cynic's version of the Golden Rule**: "He who has the gold, rules." Many developing country delegates have repeatedly stated that without a strong financial commitment, there can be no treaty. The ultimate success of negotiations depends in large part on resolution of this critical issue.
In terms of the type of financial mechanism to be adopted, most developing countries support establishment of an independent multilateral fund similar to that under the Montreal Protocol, while many industrialized countries support use of existing mechanisms such as the Global Environment Fund (GEF). Disagreements regarding criteria by which additional POPs chemicals would be identified for global elimination remain unresolved as well.
At the third negotiating session in September 1999, government delegates reached preliminary agreement to eliminate production and use of the POPs pesticides aldrin, endrin and toxaphene without exemptions. They also agreed to phase out chlordane, dieldrin, heptachlor, mirex and hexachlorobenzene with country-specific exemptions. The exact nature of these exemptions, however, has not yet been defined and was not addressed at the Bonn meeting. The U.S. has proposed a number of controversial open-ended "general" exemptions as well.
Agreement has not been reached on the approach for the remaining chemicals on the initial list (DDT, PCBs, dioxins and furans).
More than 80 NGOs from around the world, including many PAN groups, participated in both the official session and a pre-meeting weekend workshop organized by the International POPs Elimination Network (IPEN). During negotiations, NGOs distributed a regularly updated scorecard reporting delegate positions on elimination and precaution. In the final version of the scorecard, only a dozen of the 121 participating countries had very weak or negative positions on elimination and precaution. Key countries among this small group include the U.S., Australia, New Zealand and Russia. The European Union and most African, Arab and Asian countries support both the elimination goal and strong precautionary language, while many Latin American countries remain undecided.
Other NGO activities surrounding the meeting included a panel discussion for delegates co-sponsored by PAN International and the World Wildlife Fund highlighting the benefits of integrated pest management as an effective alternative to POPs pesticides, and distribution of a "StopPOPs" advertisement challenging U.S. officials to strengthen their positions on the treaty. The advertisement appeared in the New York Times, USA Today and on CNN television before and during the negotiations. In addition, Commonweal and the Environmental Ministry of the Netherlands hosted a luncheon session for delegates on the precautionary principle and the science of endocrine disruption.
The Bonn meeting was the fourth of five sessions in a process which began in 1998 and is scheduled to conclude by the end of this year. If these sessions result in a treaty, a signing ceremony will be held in Sweden in 2001.
* POPs are a group of chemicals that are toxic, persist in the environment, accumulate in animal tissue and particularly body fat, and can travel great distances. The initial twelve POPs addressed in the treaty are aldrin, chlordane, DDT, dieldrin, endrin, heptachlor, hexachlorobenzene, mirex, toxaphene, PCBs, dioxin and furans.
** A more common understanding of the Golden Rule is: "Do unto others as you would have them do unto you."
The final IPEN Scorecard is available at http://www.ipen.org.