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Stockholm Convention on persistent organic pollutants (POPs)

The Stockholm Convention on persistent organic pollutants (POPs) forms a framework, based on the precautionary principle, which seeks to guarantee the safe elimination of these substances, which are harmful to human health and the environment, as well as reductions in their production and use. The Convention covers 12 priority POPs, although the eventual long-term objective is to cover other substances.

ACT

Council Decision 2006/507/EC of 14 October 2004 concerning the conclusion, on behalf of the European Community, of the Stockholm Convention on Persistent Organic Pollutants.

SUMMARY

The Stockholm Convention seeks to limit pollution by persistent organic pollutants (POPs). It defines the substances in question, and also defines the rules governing the production, importing and exporting of those substances.

Definition

Persistent organic pollutants are chemical substances that possess certain toxic properties and, unlike other pollutants, resist degradation. POPs are particularly harmful for human health and the environment. They accumulate in living organisms, are transported by air, water and migratory species and accumulate in terrestrial and aquatic ecosystems. Pollution caused by POPs is a cross-border problem which makes international action is indispensable.

Scope

The Stockholm Convention covers 12 priority POPs produced intentionally or unintentionally. These substances are formed unintentionally by a wide variety of sources, such as residential combustion systems and waste incinerators.

These 12 priority POPs are aldrin, chlordane, dichlorodiphenyltrichlorethane (DDT), dieldrin, endrin, heptachlor, mirex, toxaphene, polychlorobiphenyls (PCBs), hexachlorobenzene, dioxins and furanes.

Initially the Convention aims at prohibiting production and use of nine POPs and minimising production and use of a tenth substance. In the case of the last two POPs, the objective is to minimise their unintentional production and release into the environment. The rules laid down in the Convention do not apply to quantities of a chemical to be used for laboratory-scale research.

Institutional bodies

Three bodies have been set up to implement the Convention at international level:

  • The Conference of the Parties: This is the principal body, consisting of all the Parties to the Convention plus, where appropriate, observers. It lays down the rules on the implementing procedures and is responsible for major decisions, such as addition of a new substance to the Convention and approval of exemptions;
  • The Persistent Organic Pollutants Review Committee: This committee, made up of specialists, examines proposals to add new substances to the Convention;
  • The Secretariat: This body is responsible principally for administrative tasks.

Import/export of POPs

The Convention provides for ending imports and exports of banned POPs. However, chemicals classified as POPs may be imported under certain circumstances:

  • for environmentally sound disposal of existing POPs (destruction of waste, etc.);
  • if an exemption has been granted authorising production and use of the substances in question.

Exports are authorised:

  • for environmentally sound disposal of existing POPs (destruction of waste, etc.);
  • to a party granted an exemption from the Convention to use the substance in question;
  • to States which have not signed the Convention.

In the latter case, the importing State must provide annual certification to the exporting Party. This certificate must specify, inter alia, the intended use of the chemical and including a commitment from the importing State to protect human health and the environment and to take waste management measures, including action to ensure irreversible elimination of the substance classified as a POP.

Unintentional production of POPs

The goal is to minimise and, where feasible, eliminate unintentional production and release of POPs. To this end, the Parties to the Convention are required to develop a national, regional or subregional action plan. This must form part of the overall plan for implementing the Convention. The plan must include an evaluation of releases, an evaluation of the efficacy of the existing laws and policies on management of such releases and strategies for meeting the objectives of the Convention.

The development and use of modified or substitute materials, product and processes must be encouraged in order to avoid unintentional production of POPs. The Convention includes general guidelines on best available techniques and best environmental practices for preventing or minimising releases. It also provides for measures to reduce or eliminate releases containing POPs from stockpiles and wastes.

Exemptions

The Convention allows certain exemptions from the provisions on elimination or minimisation of production or use of these substances and, consequently, from the rules on imports and exports. Such exemptions are specific to each POP and are defined, case by case, in the Annexes to the Convention.

The exemptions are entered in a register open to the public and are valid for five years. They may be extended by the Conference of the Parties, based on a report submitted to the Conference by the Party concerned justifying the continuing need for the exemption. However, when there are no longer any Parties registered for a particular type of exemption, no new registrations will be accepted for that exemption.

Implementation by the Parties

The Parties must develop a plan for fulfilling their obligations under the Convention and transmit it to the Conference. To make it easier to exchange information, each Party must designate a national focal point. Since POPs are a cross-border issue, the Parties are encouraged to cooperate at various levels, including regional or subregional, in order to facilitate the preparation, application and updating of their plans.

It is also important to monitor POP trends in the environment and their effects on public health and to encourage research and development.

Addition of new substances

At the request of any Party, the Review Committee examines all proposals to add new POPs to those already listed under the Convention. Such requests must be accompanied by the specified information stating the reasons for the proposal. This includes proof of persistence, bioaccumulation, potential for spreading and of the adverse effects on human health and the environment. Where it is decided that a proposal meets the selection criteria, the Committee re-examines the proposal, taking account of any relevant additional information received, and draws up a draft description of the risks, and if required, a risk management assessment. On the basis of these assessments, the Committee recommends that the Conference of the Parties should or should not consider including the chemical in annexes A, B and/or C. The final decision is taken by the Conference of the Parties.

Financial resources and technical assistance

Each Party contributes to the financial resources for implementation of the Convention, notably via measures and activities at national or regional level forming part of implementation plans. Developing countries and countries with economies in transition could have financial and technical difficulties with application of the Convention. Developed countries should make their contribution via a mechanism set up by the Convention to attempt to resolve this problem by providing extra financial resources. Another possible form of aid for developing countries and economies in transition is the technological support provided by the developed countries.

Rules on information

Members of the public, politicians and the chemical industry must be kept informed and made aware of the risks posed by POPs and of the rules on the subject. Measures such as appropriate training for the individuals concerned are envisaged. Effective communication between the Parties is also essential, principally via the Secretariat for the Convention.

Settlement of disputes

Disputes between Parties over interpretation or application of the Convention are either settled by arbitration or referred to the International Court of Justice. The plaintiff may choose the procedure. However, if the plaintiff is a regional or economic integration organisation it must follow the arbitration procedure alone.

Failure to comply

The Convention will have a mechanism for identifying non-compliance with the Convention and procedures for dealing with such cases.

Withdrawal

Parties may withdraw from the Convention three years after it enters into force through a written withdrawal. A minimum period of one year from the receipt of the withdrawal notification by the depositary must elapse before such withdrawals can take effect.

Background

The Convention was adopted by 150 Governments, including those of the Member States of the European Union, and also by the Council, acting on behalf of the European Union, at a conference held in Stockholm from 22 to 23 May 2001.

The Convention entered into force on 17 May 2004.

The Stockholm Convention follows a series of measures taken at international level. In June 1998 the European Community signed the Aarhus Protocol on Persistent Organic Pollutants to the Geneva Convention on Long-range Transboundary Air Pollution (under the auspices of the United Nations Economic Commission for Europe (UN-ECE)). The Protocol currently covers 16 POPs, 12 of which come under this Convention.

This measure also fits into the broader context of the numerous international treaties and conventions concluded on the environment in recent years, such as the Rio Declaration on Environment and Development.

REFERENCES

Act Entry into force Deadline for transposition in the Member States Official Journal

Decision 2006/507/EC

14.10.2004

-

OJ L 209, 31.7.2006

RELATED ACTS

Regulation (EC) No 850/2004 of the European Parliament and of the Council of 29 April 2004 on persistent organic pollutants and amending Directive 79/117/EEC [OJ L 158 of 30.4.2004].
This 2004 Regulation seeks to supplement the EU's already substantial legislation on the substances on the lists and shows a willingness to go beyond international obligations, especially in the field of chemical substances and waste management.
The Regulation specifically concerns the production, placing on the market, use, discharge and elimination of substances which are banned or restricted under the Stockholm Convention on POPs, or the UN-ECE Protocol on POPs. It seeks to establish, at European level, requirements for effective implementation of these two international agreements.

Council Decision 2004/259/EC of 19 February 2004 concerning the conclusion, on behalf of the European Community, of the 1988 Protocol to the 1979 Convention on Long Range Transboundary Air Pollution on Persistent Organic Pollutants [OJ L 81 of 19.3.2004].
This Decision approves the 1998 Protocol to the 1979 Convention on Long-Range Transboundary Air Pollution on Persistent Organic Pollutants.
This United Nations-Economic Commission for Europe (UN-ECE) Protocol was signed by the EU and its Member States in June 1998. It relates to the same 12 POPs as the Stockholm Convention and to four other additional substances (pentabromodiphenyl ether, chlordecone, hexabromobiphenyl and hexachlorocyclohexane). These POPs have significant adverse effects on health or the environment as a result of their persistence, their bioaccumulation and their long-range transboundary atmospheric transport. The Protocol's ultimate aim is to eliminate discharges, emissions and leaks of POPs. The Protocol categorically prohibits the production and use of certain products (aldrin, chlordane, chlordecone, dieldrin, endrin, hexabromobiphenyl, mirex and toxaphene). It provides for the elimination of other products at a later stage (DDT, heptachlor, hexachlorobenzene and polychlorobiphenyls (PCBs)).

Last updated: 07.07.2011
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