Meeting face-to-face after being postponed due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the meetings of the Conferences of the Parties (COPs) to Basel, Rotterdam and Stockholm (BRS) Conventions convened to strengthen and expand efforts to reduce hazardous wastes, eliminate persistent organic pollutants (POPs), and control trade and illegal trafficking of toxic chemicals and wastes.
The 15th meeting of the COP to the Basel Convention on the Control of Transboundary Movements of Hazardous Wastes and Their Disposal (BC COP 15) adopted 22 decisions, including an agreement to amend the Convention to make all electronic and electrical waste subject to the prior informed consent (PIC) procedure. Consensus on the e-waste amendments, first proposed by Ghana and Switzerland, is significant, given e-waste is the fastest-growing waste stream in the world, with only 17% recycled or recovered in 2019. Developing countries will now have information about what is in e-waste shipments and can refuse the shipments if they wish.
BC COP 15 also adopted technical guidelines on mercury wastes, and three updated technical guidelines on the environmentally sound management of wastes from POPs. Other technical guidelines adopted by the COP include the environmentally sound incineration of hazardous and other wastes, and the environmentally sound disposal of hazardous wastes and other wastes in specially engineered landfills. COP 15 also initiated a new track of work to improve the efficiency and efficacy of the PIC procedure, and adopted new measures on tackling plastic wastes.
The tenth meeting of the COP to the Rotterdam Convention on the Prior Informed Consent Procedure for Certain Hazardous Chemicals and Pesticides in International Trade (RC COP 10) adopted seven decisions, including to list two of the seven chemicals proposed by its Chemical Review Committee (CRC). Parties were unable to agree to list the pesticides acetochlor, fenthion ultra-low volume formulations, paraquat dichloride formulations, and carbosulfan. Parties could also not agree to list chrysotile asbestos, which was first proposed in 2006 and accounts for 99% of global asbestos production. Although the danger posed by chrysotile asbestos is not in question, some called for further scientific review of the substance or for ending its consideration altogether. Although listing chemicals in RC Annex III does not mean a ban on production, use, or international trade, many oppose listing economically valuable substances, claiming this will reduce availability, particularly with respect to agricultural chemicals that some countries use to protect crops from birds, insects, and weeds.
The tenth meeting of the COP to the Stockholm Convention on POPs (SC COP 10) adopted 13 decisions, including to ban, without exceptions, the production and use of perfluorohexane sulfonic acid (PFHxS), its salts, and related compounds. The industrial chemical has been used in stain-resistant fabrics, firefighting foams, grease-resistant food packaging, and non-stick cookware. PFHxS is one of many thousands of per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS), highly persistent substances commonly known as “forever chemicals,” which are linked to cancer, thyroid problems, and infertility, and affect the nervous system.
SC parties were unable to advance work on establishing a compliance mechanism, with several developing countries emphasizing the need for funding for implementation as a precondition to any future agreements to establish such a mechanism.
COP 10 also adopted decisions on PCB and DDT. On PCB, the COP urged parties to step up efforts by immediately implementing actions to eliminate its use in equipment by 2025, and to achieve the environmentally sound management of relevant PCB wastes by 2028. However, eliminating PCBs will require almost USD 2.4 billion. While the eighth replenishment of the Global Environment Facility (GEF-8) increased funding for chemicals, its increase to USD 800 million, of which USD 400 million was allocated to the Stockholm Convention, falls short of the funding needed to eliminate PCBs. On DDT, the COP noted that, while continued use of DDT is needed for indoor residual spraying in specific settings for malaria vector control, DDT use may not be needed after 2030.
The three Conventions also took seven joint decisions, including on strengthening efforts to combat illegal trafficking and trade of hazardous chemicals and wastes. The COPs strengthened the mandate for international cooperation with other organizations, including the Minamata Convention on Mercury, and in support of the recently adopted UN Environment Assembly (UNEA) resolutions on an international legally binding agreement to end plastic pollution, and on establishing a science-policy panel to contribute further to the sound management of chemicals and waste and prevent pollution.
From 8-10 June, the BRS COPs hosted the Plastics Forum – a multi-stakeholder event dedicated to promoting the environmentally sound management of plastic waste. The Plastics Forum, which featured more than 20 side events held in a 3-D virtual platform, marked the peak of the Plastic is Forever campaign, with a hackathon, a photo exhibition, the launch of a social media challenge, and an illuminations show on Geneva’s Palais des Nations.
The meetings of the BRS COPs convened under the theme, ‘Global Agreements for a Healthy Planet: Sound Management of Chemicals and Waste,’ from 6-17 June 2022 in Geneva, Switzerland, with some parties and observers joining online. These followed an online segment in July 2021 and a High-level Segment on the sidelines of the Stockholm+50 meeting in Sweden. The next triple COP will meet in May 2023 in the Bahamas. [ENB Summary Report of the BRS COPs] [UNEP Press Release]