POPs talk

A meeting to eliminate persistent organic pollutants throws up more questions than answers

Published: Sunday 28 February 1999

at the second meeting of the Intergovernmental Negotiating Committee ( inc ), held in Nairobi from January 25-29, delegates from 97 countries discussed measures to tackle the menace caused by the 12 persistent organic pollutants ( pop s), including ddt . pop s are chemical toxins which do not break down easily and cause damage to human and animal health.

Though a report of the International Institute of Sustainable Development ( iisd ) described the meeting as a success, the five-day discussions also witnessed struggles among many parties. Domestic self-interests made a consensus difficult.

As part of the pop elimination plan, parties of the inc have been seeking ways to develop a criteria and a procedure for identifying other pop s for inclusion in the upcoming treaty.

During the negotiations, the g- 77 nations and China demanded that the process of identifying and eliminating pop s must be carried out with consideration to the socio-economic conditions of the various countries. They emphasised on "differentiated responsibilities" according to the capacity of each country. Key parties such as China and India even stated that different phase-out schedules of pop s were required for developed and developing countries. The Indian representative at the meeting, Shantanu Consul, joint secretary at the ministry of chemicals, said diseases such as malaria make gradual phase-out patterns necessary in developing countries that are still using pop s such as ddt for vector control.

A contentious issue which seemed to divide developed and developing nations, and which remained unsolved at inc, was that of confidentiality in exchange of information among countries. While developed nations, such as Canada and the us , wanted confidentiality on business matters and wanted exchange of information to be included in the treaty only if it was consistent with national laws and regulations, developing countries like Peru, Indonesia and Kuwait wanted all relevant information to be exchanged in a transparent and non-discriminatory manner.

Participants agreed that technical assistance would be needed for many developing countries, but the meeting focused mainly on production, usage and getting rid of pop stockpiles in developing countries for the time being. The question of technical assistance is inseparable from the question of financial help to many developing countries who do not have resources to deal with the pop problem. Not surprisingly, these countries held the view that a financial mechanism is indispensable to the future treaty.

The Global Environment Facility ( gef ) representative at the meet offered gef support for the pop s negotiations, stating that gef is ready to serve as the financial mechanism for the pop s treaty. But some delegates expressed doubt about the gef 's ability to provide adequate means for the comprehensive implementation of a pop s convention, since it already had a number of other commitments.

One marked difference in the perspective of the developed and the developing countries was that while the latter called for additional resources to fund the treaty, the former preferred to evaluation and use of existing sources of funding. Countries such as Australia, the us and Canada continuously stressed on existing programmes for financial support, whereas developing countries reiterated that it was insufficient. India, on the behalf of g -77 and China, presented a position paper which pointed out that a new and additional financial mechanism was necessary to enable effective implementation of the convention.

A total of five sessions had been planned over 1998-99, which will be followed by a diplomatic conference hosted by Sweden for signing the treaty in the year 2000. The powerful chemical industry, represented by the International Council of Chemical Associations, supported the negotiations publicly at Nairobi. But their stance might change as the list of pop increases and their restrictions affects economic interests. As future negotiations come to pass, a clearer picture of the politics bubbling underneath all the goodwill will emerge.

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