With the Conferences of the Parties (COPs) to the Basel, Rotterdam and Stockholm (BRS) Conventions[i] having convened under the theme, ‘Clean Planet, Healthy People: Sound Management of Chemicals and Waste,’ in 2019, this article reflects on the important achievements of a partnership between the European Union (EU) and the BRS Secretariat, focusing on the implementation of the BRS Conventions.

For many years, support to the BRS Secretariat activities was rather piecemeal. But in 2012, the EU and the UN Environment Programme (UNEP) entered into a new era of cooperation to better support the BRS Secretariat. Financial contributions provided to the Conventions’ Secretariat through this enhanced framework supported collaboration, built capacity, and fostered forward-looking programmes to help countries meet their BRS Conventions’ obligations as well as their development goals and priorities. Many of the areas benefiting from the EU support – monitoring, developing country implementation, and emerging issues such as electronic waste and household waste – remain at the forefront of global discussions today. And in this regard, the European Union’s support remains both salient and timely.

Further, with the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) calling for “the environmentally sound management of chemicals and all wastes throughout their life cycle, by 2020,” the emphasis of the EU support on monitoring, capacity building, and implementation of decisions adopted by the COPs has never been more important for helping countries also achieve the 2030 Agenda.

Basel Convention

The Basel Convention aims to protect human health and the environment from the effects of hazardous and other wastes. It does so primarily by establishing a strict control procedure for the transboundary movements of such wastes, but also by requiring the minimization of their generation and ensuring their environmentally sound management.

The 2018 High-level Political Forum on Sustainable Development (HLPF) and the fourth session of the UN Environment Assembly (UNEA-4), in 2019, both addressed efforts towards a circular economy and sustainable consumption and production (SCP). While the work of the BRS Conventions is relevant for the achievement of many SDGs, SDG 12 on SCP is where the 2020 target on the sustainable management of chemicals is formally housed and monitored. The impact of the long-standing financial support by the EU for the environmentally sound management of e-waste, mercury waste, household waste, and ship recycling represent important steps towards making these industries more circular and less environmentally detrimental. In doing so, the EU-funded activities therefore not only contributed to the implementation of the Convention but fostered progress towards meeting the SDGs.

The projects undertaken by the BRS Secretariat thanks to EU financial support made the ship dismantling industry more sustainable in Bangladesh and Pakistan. They supported the minimization of e-waste and the maximization of its recycling under the Partnership for Action on Computing Equipment (PACE). They also enhanced capacities for the environmentally sound management (ESM) of mercury wastes at a time when this waste stream was increasing, and when the Mercury Convention was yet to come into play. EU funded projects also commenced work towards the prevention, minimization, and management of household wastes, an extremely important issue for all countries, but especially for Small Island Developing States (SIDS) and least developed countries (LDCs) that lack the capacity to cope with growing waste streams, especially toxic e-waste.

Further, the EU support to the BRS Secretariat targeted efforts by the Implementation and Compliance Committee to improve compliance by all countries with the Basel Convention, and it was instrumental in improving legal clarity under the Convention, in particular regarding the distinction between wastes and no wastes. Finally, the EU support to the BRS Secretariat enabled the participation of representatives of developing countries and countries with economies in transition in COP meetings as well as the translation of documentation – both critical to ensuring the meaningful engagement of all countries in key discussions on both legacy and emerging waste-related issues.

Rotterdam Convention

The Rotterdam Convention facilitates the exchange of information among Parties on hazardous chemicals and pesticides and their potential risks. It is meant to inform and improve national decision making. Through its prior informed consent (PIC) procedure, the Convention provides a legally binding mechanism to support national decisions on importing selected chemicals and pesticides, with the goal of minimizing the risks they pose to human health and the environment.

Historically, and at successive meetings of the COP to the Rotterdam Convention, parties identified major gaps in their capacity to establish a sound framework for chemicals management. It was a need that could not be met effectively by simple workshops or meetings. It required more sustained forms of financial and technical assistance. To fill this gap, at its 5th session in June 2011, the COP approved a programme for the delivery of technical assistance. The European Union stepped up its ongoing support in 2012 and approved the financing of four projects of the BRS Secretariat, each offering evolving support to Parties working to meet their obligations under the Convention.

Results included, for instance, a prototype toolkit to facilitate the exchange of information on hazardous chemicals, and assistance to developing countries across Africa and Latin America and the Caribbean in developing National Action Plans (NAPs) and monitoring hazardous chemicals. With project support, the BRS Secretariat was able to respond to requests from Parties for assistance developing NAPs, and national and regional workshops and consultations were organized world-wide. Projects have also focused on the sound management of asbestos, severely hazardous pesticide formulations (SHPFs), and highly hazardous pesticides (HHPs). Ongoing through 2020, another project is developing guidance material and updating the Final Regulatory Action (FRA) Evaluation toolkit for increased user-friendliness in accessing relevant information.

EU-funded projects are helping countries through the BRS Secretariat to get on a path where dangerous chemicals can be more safely managed.

Stockholm Convention

The EU support to the BRS Secretariat towards the implementation of the Stockholm Convention on Persistent Organic Pollutants (POPs) has been equally impactful. The EU supported five projects that buoyed progress on monitoring and capacity building through workshops, funding for country delegate participation in meetings, and global web-based seminars. Projects fostered the development and deployment of alternatives to listed chemicals as well as supported the scientific work of the POPs Review Committee (POPRC) Programme of Work on perfluorooctane sulfonate (PFOS); and the evaluation of Parties’ progress towards eliminating brominated diphenyl ethers (BDEs). Outcomes improved the sustainable data monitoring of listed chemicals; increased the capacity of developing countries to participate actively in POPs monitoring activities; established baseline monitoring data for newly listed substances; and fostered regional monitoring reports from all five UN regions.

Another important project outcome was the establishment of the Global Monitoring Plan for Effectiveness Evaluation (GMP), a global system for monitoring POPs concentrations in core media over time. As a result, a rich and extremely valuable collection of data on POPs concentrations in the environment and in humans has been developed and made publicly available. This information fed into the Second Global Monitoring Report, which was released in 2016. It synthesized information from the first (2000-2008) and second (2009-2015) phases of the GMP and presented current findings on POPs concentrations at a global scale. The data set represents a valuable resource for both policymakers and researchers worldwide, and it increases awareness and knowledge of chemicals and their related human and environmental health risks. This information also supported discussions at the BRS COPs in 2019.

Going forward and into 2020, the BRS Secretariat would like to invite the EU to finance further data collection for national reporting under the BRS Conventions as well as the SDGs. This will support the development of guidance documents for industrial POPs; inventories and the review and update of NIPs; and support the development of science and information on alternative chemicals that will improve human and environmental health.

With nearly a decade of support through the 2012 cooperative framework with the BRS Secretariat, the EU has continued to demonstrate its strong commitment to the Basel, Rotterdam and Stockholm Conventions. Much has been achieved in a wide variety of key areas, and this continuous support remains critical for the Parties to the Conventions, in particular developing country Parties and Parties with economies in transition, to achieve the fundamental goals of protecting human health and the environment from the negative impacts of hazardous chemicals and wastes.

For more information on the important work of the European Union funded BRS Secretariat projects toward implementation of the BRS Conventions, please visit: http://synergies.pops.int/.

[i] The fourteenth meeting of the Conference of the Parties to the Basel Convention (BC COP-14), the ninth meeting of the Conference of the Parties to the Rotterdam Convention (RC COP-9) and the ninth meeting of the Conference of the Parties to the Stockholm Convention (SC COP-9) were held back to back from 29 April to 10 May 2019, in Geneva, Switzerland.