27 Jul 2021
Organization: Basel, Rotterdam and Stockholm Conventions
2021 marks the 20 year anniversary of the Stockholm Convention, the global treaty protecting human health and the environment from persistent organic pollutants (POPs). This side event to the online segment of the 2021 Meeting of the Conference of the Parties to the Basel, Rotterdam and Stockholm Conventions is part of a series of events to commemorate the adoption of the Convention and celebrate its contribution to the achievement of the Agenda 2030.
The Stockholm Convention
The Stockholm Convention on Persistent Organic Pollutants (POPs) was adopted at a Conference of Plenipotentiaries on 22 May 2001 in Stockholm, Sweden. This is the achievement of a process which one of the first steps was a decision adopted at the UNEP governing council, back in 1995. The Convention entered into force on 17 May 2004, ninety days after the submission of the fiftieth instrument of ratification, acceptance, approval or accession in respect of the Convention. As of 20 October 2020, there are 184 Parties to the Convention.
The Stockholm Convention protects human health and the environment from persistent organic pollutants through a range of measures aimed at reducing and ultimately eliminating their releases. Initially addressing 12 POPs, today it covers 30 POPS.
The past two decades have seen the convention grow and evolve from laying down a solid base to facilitate the implementation of the Convention at the national, regional and global levels to its actual implementation. Achievements include the establishment and operationalisation of the Persistent Organic Pollutants Review Committee, the endorsement, subsequent review and evaluation of institutions to serve as regional and sub-regional centres for capacity-building and the transfer of technology, the development of relevant guidance called by the Convention, the adoption of the global monitoring plan as well as arrangements for evaluating the effectiveness of the Convention, the first review of the effectiveness of the Convention, the listing of 18 new POPs in the Annexes A, B and C to the Convention, to mention a few. Over this period the Convention has also demonstrated that it’s science-based approach for identifying and addressing new POPs make it a flexible instrument that can adapt to the changing needs over time.
Commemorating the anniversary of the adoption of the Convention provides an opportunity to raise awareness on the Convention by showcasing its contribution towards the protection of human health and the environment as well as to the SDGs and the implementation of the Agenda 2030.
Persistent Organic Pollutants
POPs are extremely toxic chemicals that are sometimes called ‘forever chemicals’ as they remain in our bodies and the environment for decades and can disperse over thousands of miles on land, our atmosphere and oceans. Exposure to POPs has been proven to lead to serious health effects including certain cancers, birth defects, dysfunctional immune and reproductive systems, greater susceptibility to disease, and damages to the central and peripheral nervous systems.
In addition to the original 12 POPs listed upon adoption – the so-called “Dirty Dozen” including DDT – a further 18 toxic chemicals or chemical groups have been listed, including perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA), which is common in many household items such as furniture and non-stick cooking pans, totalling some 4,000 chemicals in all. PFOA, like many other POPs, is known to be linked to major health problems including kidney cancer, testicular cancer, thyroid disease and hypertension in pregnancy.
The Convention’s Global Monitoring Programme shows that for those initial 12 POPs, concentrations measured in air and in human populations have declined and continue to decline or remain at low levels, proving beyond any doubt that international legally binding treaties do work in addressing global environmental issues.
Executive Secretary, Basel, Rotterdam and Stockholm Conventions
Silvija Nora Kalnins
Stockholm Convention COP10 President (Latvia)
Senior Advisor, International Unit, Swedish Chemicals Agency
Director, Department of International Cooperation, Ministry of Ecology and Environment, China
Elham Refaat Abdel Aziz
General Director, Hazardous Substances and Waste Department, Egyptian Environmental Affairs Agency
Director, Waste Management and Standard Section, Ministry of Environment, Seychelles
Director, Basel and Stockholm Conventions Regional Centre, Uruguay
Co-Chair, International Pollutants Elimination Network (IPEN)
Rolph Payet | Executive Secretary, Basel, Rotterdam and Stockholm Conventions
- Over the past two decades, much has been achieved in the implementation of the Convention. Today, there are 184 parties, almost full coverage, and the number of POPs part of the Convention has almost tripled.
- Regulations targeting POPs have seen a decrease in the amount of POPs seen in humans and the environment, particularly for the first 12 POPs. Even for some newly admitted ones, we’re already seeing declining numbers.
- The Stockholm Convention has demonstrated its ability to adapt to global developments and needs regarding chemicals management. Even as discussions on new chemicals being included into the convention, the hope is that the effect of the Convention will still be seen in the future.
- As such, there is good reason to celebrate the anniversary of the Stockholm Convention.
Silvija Nora Kalnins | Stockholm Convention COP10 President (Latvia)
- Much has been achieved over the past two decades since the international community recognised that international action was needed to address the dangers of POPs to humans and the environment. The Convention has been successful in creating a network of 16 regional and sub-regional centres globally that can provide technical assistance and technology on the matter.
- Specific exemptions for several chemicals have already expired, which means that alternatives to the most hazardous chemicals have already been identified. Based on the latest monitoring reports in 2021, levels of certain POPs have already decreased globally?
- Where do we want to be in 20 years? If we want the Stockholm Convention to continue, it will depend on the ambition of the decisions we take today.
- There is a need to transform food systems to reduce harm while preserving the environment, and a need to allocate more resources to manage chemicals and wastes to ensure that all PCB uses are ceased by 2025 and PCB waste are managed soundly by 2028.
- The growth of the Stockholm Convention depends on the investments and efforts its members make today.
Introduction to Video Series “Twenty Voices for Twenty Years”
Rolph Payet | Executive Secretary, Basel, Rotterdam and Stockholm Conventions
- The journey of the Stockholm Convention started in the 60s on the “Silent Sprint”, a book by Rachel Carson documenting the hazardous effects of POPs on humans and the environment. It was in February 1997 that the UNEP Governing Council agreed on starting a negotiating process, which was signed by a number of parties a few years later.
- Having 184 countries sign the Convention signifies the importance of highlighting the effects of these toxic chemicals.
- Though it was difficult in the beginning to negotiate which chemicals to include in the Convention, they agreed to add 12 chemicals, or the “Dirty Dozen”, mostly agricultural chemicals that were listed for eventual phase out and eventual banning.
- The party also agreed to role of the regional centres around the world, closely associated with universities, to help strengthen capacities of governments and organisations in addressing chemicals phase out and management.
John Buccini | Chair, Intergovernmental Negotiating Committee to develop an internationally legally binding treaty on implementing international action on POPs
- Because it was a global issue, it would require a global treaty, which led to having a global treaty on POPs prioritised at the UN level.
- He chaired the working groups and committees that resulted in the negotiation of the Convention.
- In a meeting in Manila, Philippines, the first recommendation was formulated, and in 1998 was brought to the UNEP Governing Council who decided to pursue the treaty afterwards.
- An unforgettable moment in the meeting: two people, from Greenpeace and from an international industry, unexpectedly asked for a floor, presented together, and moved the process forward at a moment when everyone was hung up.
- The fact that it had such broad base stakeholder support set it up for a good first phase of implementation. If it can prevent the creation and large-scale introduction of POPs chemicals, then there would be a more significant impact in the future.
Overview of the Achievements of the Stockholm Convention Over the Last 20 Years
María Cristina CÁRDENAS-FISCHER | Senior Policy and Strategy Advisor, BRS Secretariat
Here are a list of milestones of the Stockholm Convention from 2001-2021:
- From 12 POPs, there are now 30 POPs included in the Convention, with more on the way.
- There are 184 parties to the Convention, an almost universal coverage.
- 16 regional centres have been established around the world for capacity building and transfer of technology.
- Specific exemptions for several chemicals have already expired, which means that no further registrations for these may be made.
- In the Global Monitoring Plan for Effectiveness Evaluation, three sets of reports integrate the results of decades of POPs monitored at regional and global scale: 175 parties have transmitted their initial National Implementation Plan, while 104 have reviewed and updated them at least once.
- In the first effectiveness evaluation, they concluded that the Convention is effective and dynamic in regulating POPs throughout their lifecycle.
Interactive Panel Discussion on the Achievements of the Stockholm Convention & What Needs to Be Done for a World Free of Pops
Q1. What has made the Stockholm Convention successful?
Maria Delvin | Senior Advisor, International Unit, Swedish Chemicals Agency
- Three helpful factors that made the Convention successful. First, the functional process to add new POPs to the list have been helpful. The fact that it is a treaty for a whole group of chemicals with POPs properties, where there are precautionary requirements when assessing chemicals and listing substances that should be eliminate, have contributed a lot to the results of the Convention. The POPs review committee, as well as the Secretariat, have also been valuable in the success of the Stockholm Convention.
- Second, there is now a broad, solid understanding that these chemicals cannot be handled by any country alone — global collaboration through the Stockholm Convention is a must.
- Finally, the fact that the success and implementation can be monitored makes it easier for the message of the Convention to be conveyed to governments and to the public. That we can see the results themselves is encouraging enough to say that the Convention is successful.
Gabriela Medina | Director, Basel and Stockholm Conventions Regional Centre, Uruguay
- The success of the Convention lies in the fact that right after the treaty was signed, almost everyone knew about the hazards of POPs. Their risks are known across all levels: not only by the government and by ministries, but by industries, academia, civil society and even students.
- With Article 7, countries can choose to create the National Implementation Plan: making an inventory of POPs, their source of emission and strategic plans to mitigate and eliminate them.
- Though recent observations have shown that levels of POPs are dropping recently, as more chemicals are introduced into the Convention, more studies need to be undertaken in order to provide more accurately data from forests for example.
- We have also seen the increase in laboratories’ capabilities in both equipment and expertise. With synergies with the Basel Convention on plastics, the presence of POPs in plastics have become the object of focus, and as such we will see developments in this area in the immediate future.
Tadesse Amera | Co-Chair, International Pollutants Elimination Network
- Securing the global agreement on the principles of eliminating the most dangerous chemicals on earth is one of the Convention.
- The success of the POPRC in identifying new substances of concern is also notable.
- Recently, the phasing out of the recycling exemption which undermined the objective of the Convention was also a great success.
Q2. What are the challenges ahead?
- At the moment, the Convention uses a chemical-by-chemical approach, rather than by chemical families. Having around 4,500 chemicals plus PSF chemicals, the process will take a very long time.
- Inadequate funding for the Convention is also an issue. While there are already 30 POPs listed, implementing all of these are challenged by financing issues, a challenge that can be overcome with help from chemical industries. If they contribute 0.5% of the 5 trillion profit, they can assist the Convention.
- Recommending the POPs incineration as an environmentally sound waste management technique is creating problems, and leads to the creation of new POPs and the release of emissions.
- We are also way behind the deadline of addressing the PCP stockpiles by 2028. Non-combustion techniques and technologies need to be rolled out to address the 70-80% of these stockpiles that still exist.
- Though the POPRC has given good scientific evidence and recommendations for new listings, after these have been presented, any single country can block these. This can hinder development countries who wish to address the new POPs being proposed.
Haijun Chen | Director, Department of International Cooperation, Ministry of Ecology and Environment, China
- The most important aspect of the Convention’s success is the implementation by Parties, and as such we need to create the conditions for them to be able to do so. The biggest challenges therefore for developing countries and countries in transition are the technical and financial needs by these Parties, as many of them still need more reliable and more adequate funds for implementation.
- Though we see how it is a “living” Convention, we also see that newly listed POPs are still used in many areas as industrial chemicals, where alternative chemicals and technologies are difficult to come by.
- The decision-making mechanism is by consensus, which makes one question whether it is really possible for all Parties to implement these?
Elham Refaat Abdel Aziz | General Director, Hazardous Substances and Waste Department, Egyptian Environmental Affairs Agency
- To have good management of POPs, one must have a good monitoring system, from equipment, laboratories to personnel. The challenge is in obtaining better POP measurement results from other sources that are being recommended by the Convention.
- There has also been a lack of shared information on chemicals and POPs, their characteristics and their hazards.
- Though we now know better about POPs, there is still a need for assistance in monitoring the new POPs.
- We are now moving away from fat-soluble pesticides that were the focus during the “Silent Spring” towards industrial chemicals in everyday objects: from carpets, TV screens, and sunscreens. The challenge is to how to keep these safe.
- The deadline set back in 2001 draws near, and yet the amount of PCBs measured is still quite high. We really need the Convention to deliver the phaseout of PCBs through synergies in efforts of combatting climate change and reaching sustainable development goals.
Q3. What needs to be done to tackle the identified challenges?
Frederick Kinloch | Director, Waste Management and Standard Section, Ministry of Environment, Seychelles
- Seychelles is a small island developing state that lacks in resource and human capacity, which means that prioritizing is key when it comes to the implementation of the NIPs. There may be a need for a unit in the Convention dedicated to the implementation of the NIPs, from developing the regulatory framework, educating the public, and developing strategies to regulate chemicals.
- Disposal of empty pesticide containers is also becoming a problem in the country.
Elham Refaat Abdel Aziz
- A strong GMP can help in tackling these challenges, including providing proper training to countries on how to measure new POPs.
- Though submitting the NIPs to the Secretariat is already helpful, conducting more meetings with focal points can help flesh out the issues that the countries may be facing.
- When resources are available, it’s easy for the countries to conduct their projects and create their NIPs. However, the lack of resources at the regional level makes these operations difficult to maintain.
- When reporting, there are inconsistencies between the implementation plans and their reports, as such we are now developing an easier way of reporting constantly and effectively.
- Compromises among members of the Parties are also needed to be able to balance between requirements of the Convention as well as the technical and financial capacities that differ country-by-country.
- One of the good aspects of the Convention is that it allows each Party, within their own legal system, embrace it with a precautionary principle when it comes to POPs properties. It is costly to remediate and sometimes impossible to take these back, once placed in the legal framework, even if the Convention has already been trying to take groups of chemicals.
In addition to the live WebEx and Facebook transmissions, the video is available on this webpage.
- Stockholm Convention
- 2021 Meetings of the conferences of the Parties to the Basel, Rotterdam and Stockholm conventions
- Side-Events to the 2021 BRS COPs
- Twenty years after the Stockholm Convention was adopted, new monitoring reports confirm decreasing levels of certain POPs worldwide
- BRS Secretariat launches video series to celebrate Stockholm Convention’s 20th anniversary
- Happy Birthday: The Stockholm Convention is 20 years young!