A Fair on polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) convened on the sidelines of the 2023 meetings of the Conferences of the Parties to the Basel, Rotterdam, and Stockholm Conventions (BRS COPs) to raise awareness about the need accelerate action on PCBs. This comes ahead of impending deadlines under the Stockholm Convention on eliminating PCB use in equipment by 2025 and ensuring the environmentally sound waste management of liquids containing PCBs and equipment contaminated with PCBs by 2028.

On Wednesday, 3 May, the PCB Fair saw the launch of a report on progress towards eliminating PCBs and ensuring the environmentally sound waste management of chemicals and wastes (UNEP/POPS/COP.11/INF/11), prepared by the BRS Secretariat in consultation with a small intersessional working group (SIWG). Explaining that the report is based on information provided by parties reporting under the Stockholm and Basel Conventions, the Secretariat noted low reporting rates and said only a few countries have reported on complete inventories of PCB waste. He said information submitted by parties on transboundary movements of hazardous waste under the Basel Convention was useful for completing information reported under the Stockholm Convention. However, he underscored that lack of information about the amount of PCB waste in use and in storage is a challenge.

Edwin Camelo Martínez, SIWG Chair, highlighted that some countries have built capacity to destroy PCBs locally, while export remains the only viable option for others, as well as the need to update national inventories, raise public awareness, and enhance synergies between the Basel and Stockholm Conventions to improve consistency in information. Chizuru Aoki, Global Environment Facility (GEF), emphasized that GEF resources could be used for disposal and management of PCBs, while larger-scale financing packages could be pulled together by development banks, industry, and others. The BRS Secretariat presented a document on sustainable funding for PCB elimination (UNEP/POPS/COP.11/INF/30), which explains that significant investment is needed to fund the replacement of contaminated equipment.

On Thursday, 4 May, experts discussed national and regional projects to eliminate PCBs, results achieved, challenges, and lessons learned on PCB elimination to meet the Stockholm Convention goals. Experts detailed:

  • a business model developed for West African countries that facilitates both PCB elimination and replacement;
  • a project to dispose of PCB-contaminated equipment in twelve countries in southern Africa, noting such challenges as poor access to information on PCBs and non-responsiveness of some equipment owners who lack understanding of dangers posed by PCBs; and
  • the ways in which cost-effective investment in energy-efficient transformers will facilitate the removal of PCBs from installed transformer stock. 

Government representatives from Argentina, Colombia, and Egypt described actions taken in their respective countries to address the issue of PCBs, including, among others, equipment inspections, PCB management training, purification, and treatment of transformer oils. A representative from India said 71.3% of PCBs in her country are used in the power sector and highlighted safe storage as a challenge. She underscored the use of non-combustion technologies for destroying PCBs, and the commission of mobile units to destroy low-concentration PCBs at power stations.

On Friday, 5 May, an expert panel shared insights into potential tools and guidance to support parties working to meet the 2025 and 2028 goals, with the BRS Secretariat introducing an updated draft strategy to meet the goals (UNEP/POPS/COP.11/INF/13). The strategy includes, among others, a template parties can use to develop national strategies for PCB elimination. One panelist encouraged stakeholders to assess the cost-efficiency of continuing to use pre-1990s transformers, emphasizing that while new transformers have higher upfront costs, old transformers have higher running costs over time due to energy loss. Claudia Neuschulz, European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD), outlined an environmental technology transfer programme to support depollution in the Mediterranean region, and highlighted work to provide investment grants for safe removal and disposal of equipment contaminated with POPs.
The PCB Fair, hosted under the aegis of the COPs from 3-5 May 2023 in Geneva, Switzerland, sought to raise awareness on the need to urgently accelerate action to meet the upcoming 2025 and 2028 PCB deadlines under the Stockholm Convention. It also provided the opportunity for relevant stakeholders to exhibit their activities, projects, and technologies to support implementation of the Conventions, as well as network and explore opportunities for collaboration and joint ventures. [Earth Negotiations Bulletin (ENB) Coverage of BRS COPs