Penultimate pre-treaty talks on POPs make slow progress

The second-last international meeting to agree a draft treaty to control persistent organic pollutants has ended with little 'official' progress made, but with hope that parties are closer to compromise.

Meeting in Bonn, The Fourth Session of the Intergovernmental Negotiating Committee for an International Legally Binding Instrument for Implementing International Action on Certain Persistent Organic Pollutants (INC-4) failed to meet its own objective of agreeing a complete negotiating text.
Nonetheless, Earth Negotiations Bulletin, which provided daily coverage of INC-4, concluded that “many delegates felt that the depth of discussion has improved, that negotiation stances are more clearly defined, and that the door for compromise is now ajar. Expectations are high that progress can be made during the intersessional discussions”.

In particular, compromise between developed and developing countries on the level of funding for controlling POPs is expected to be reached by INC-5 at the end of the year.

Discussions on whether a POPs treaty should seek an eventual elimination of the chemicals or simply a reduction were heated, with Canada, the US, Japan and others resisting the use of the word “elimination”. Qualifying text that states the aim of the treaty as “elimination, where feasible” was not agreed, but ENB reports such wording could eventually succeed.

Another area of dispute concerned the legality of producing and trading in POPs – some countries were arguing that production and trade in POPs should still be allowed by countries that agree to limit or end their domestic use of POPs. The question of whether the treaty should set out a structure to deal with assessing the dangers posed by new POPs – beyond those chemicals named in the current text – was also discussed, with no agreement.

The diplomatic conference to agree a POPs treaty is planned for May 2001, with a last intergovernmental negotiating meeting (INC-5) scheduled for early December 2000 in Johannesburg.

POPs have been shown to lead to cancer, immune system diseases, damage to central and peripheral nervous systems, reproductive disorders as well as interference with infant and child development. The POPs under international discussion fall into three categories:

  • pesticides – aldrin, chlordane, DDT, dieldrin, endrin, heptachlor, mirex and toxaphene
  • industrial chemicals – hexachlorobenzene (HCB) and polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs)
  • byproducts – dioxins and furans

The United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) issued an upbeat statement following the end of INC-4, stating that “governments reaffirmed eventual elimination as the goal of the Convention and included exemptions for use of DDT in controlling malaria mosquitoes and for existing uses of PCBs”.

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