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POPs Treaty to Protect Environment and Health
December 22, 2000
Delegates from 122 countries ended a week of negotiations in Johannesburg, South Africa, on December 10 with agreement on an international treaty to eliminate persistent organic pollutants (POPs). The final treaty is strongly supported by NGOs from around the world who have tracked the negotiations for several years.
The treaty identifies an initial list of 12 POPs slated for elimination, with various phaseout timetables for each chemical. An official signing ceremony will be held in Stockholm, Sweden in May 2001, and the treaty will go into force when ratified by 50 countries. This initial list, which includes nine pesticides, will be expanded over time according to criteria set forth in the treaty.
One of the most controversial issues in the final negotiations was how the "precautionary principle" would appear in the treaty, and specifically what role it would play in the addition of new chemicals. Throughout the negotiations, the European Union supported the inclusion of a precautionary approach, which allows that when enough information is available to raise legitimate concerns about a chemical, the international community should act to protect public health. A small number of countries led by the United States, and including Australia, Japan and Canada, insisted that this approach would be "unscientific" and would bring too many chemicals under the treaty.
The compromise reached involves the adoption of both a precautionary approach and a rigorous scientific review of health effects of chemicals being considered. While many NGO's had hoped the precautionary language would be even stronger, they are pleased that the concept is included in several key sections of the final treaty language.
The treaty also includes provisions for financial and technical assistance to developing countries to meet treaty obligations. A limited public health exemption for continued use of DDT to control malaria was put in place, along with strong incentives to develop and adopt safer alternatives.
Nearly 100 NGO representatives were present during the final negotiations, including several Pesticide Action Network representatives and many other organizations participating in the International POPs Elimination Network. Many of these NGOs have worked throughout the several years of negotiations to raise public awareness about POPs and press their governments to support a strong treaty.
Chemical manufacturers were also well represented at the meeting, and outlined several specific demands for the treaty, including limited reference to the precautionary principle, no goal of elimination for byproducts (dioxins, furans), and inclusion of several broad categories of general exemptions. While some narrowed exemptions remain (which NGOs pledged to work to tighten further during the treaty implementation process) none of the chemical industry's suggested approaches appear in the final treaty.
While NGO representatives following POPs issues are pleased with the strength of the POPs treaty, they note that agreement on the treaty text must be seen as the beginning rather than the end of the treaty process. These NGOs urge civil society to maintain pressure on their governments to ensure that the treaty is ratified and implementation initiated as soon as possible.
Sources: PANNA; NGO Press Release from Johannesburg--Sierra Club Canada, Canadian Arctic Resources Committee, Great Lakes United (USA/Canada), National Toxics Network (Australia), RAPAM (Pesticide Action Network - Mexico), Commonweal (USA), CNIID (France), The Council of Canadians; http://www.ourstolenfuture.org.
For more information on the treaty: http://www.ourstolenfuture.org, http://www.iisd.ca/chemical/pops5/
For information on POPs pesticides: http://www.pesticideinfo.org
To become involved with the International POPs Elimination Network: http://www.ipen.org.
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