Intervenor: vol. 27, no. 1 - 2, January - June 2002

First Anniversary Of The Signing Of The Stockholm Convention On Pops: Is Canada Taking Action?

May 23 marked the first anniversary of the signing of the Stockholm Convention on Persistent Organic Pollutants (POPs). Canada led the way by being the first country to ratify the Convention. Since May 23, 2001, over 150 countries have signed the Convention and eleven countries have ratified. For the Convention to enter into legal force, 50 countries must ratify.

The Stockholm Convention, which lists twelve POPs (i.e., aldrin, chlordane, dieldrin, endrin, heptachlor, hexachlorobenzene, mirex, toxaphene, PCBs, dioxins and furans) for action, is significant in many ways. POPs are generally categorized for use in industrial processes, pesticides or are unintentional by-products of industrial processes such as incineration.

The global community recognized the unique traits of POPs. They have the ability to travel long distances from their original sources, the ability to persist, bio-accumulate and have an affinity for colder climate, all of which pose significant impacts to human health and the global ecosystem. Hence, it was not surprising that the global NGOs' response to the signing of the Stockholm Convention and its focus on the elimination of POPs was well received.

Similarly, Canada recognized early on in the negotiation process the impacts of POPs on its northern ecosystem and human and wildlife populations. Significant levels of POPs continue to be detected in these regions despite the absence of industrial activities more common in southern locations like the Great Lakes Basin or other industrialized centres of the world. It was not surprising, therefore, to see the significant role Canada took throughout the three year negotiations, by hosting the first intergovernmental negotiating session (INC), chairing the negotiations and by being the first country to ratify the Convention.

When the news of Canada's ratification of the Convention was announced, the public interest organizations world-wide applauded. However, despite the requirement for the Convention to be ratified by 50 countries before it legally enters into force, the Canadian NGO community perceived that the Canadian government was prepared to address POPs in an proactive manner. NGOs expected the first step to be an announcement of Canada's National Implementation Plan (NIP). One year after ratifying the Convention, no NIP has been developed nor is there any indication from Environment Canada that a NIP is being prepared. To prepare for the next INC (INC6) meeting set in Geneva between June 17-19, Canada released a draft position paper "INC-6, Geneva, Switzerland, June 17-21, 2002 - For Canadian Stakeholder Use (May 13, 2002)" which outlines Canada's position on NIPs among other issues for this meeting.

In this consultation document, Canada indicated that its efforts for INC6 is to focus on promoting early ratification of the Stockholm Convention by providing technical and financial assistance to developing countries and countries in economic transition. While this focus is generally supported by the Canadian NGO community, the NGOs note the significant opportunity missed by Canada to have in place a plan to implement the Convention in Canada. The provisional agenda for INC6 highlights implementation as a focal point of discussion.

Meanwhile, the Canadian domestic framework on toxic substances has been undergoing some significant transformations. There are numerous consultations and policy reform debates on toxic substances that are being undertaken in a vacuum without consideration of the international obligations (e.g., Stockholm Convention) made by Canada. For example, the proposals submitted on review of the Export and Import of Hazardous Wastes Regulations under the CEPA 1999, will not stop the movement of hazardous waste between provinces nor will they stop the import of hazardous waste from outside of Canada. The CWS setting process lead by the CCME announced an emission standard for dioxins and furans last year. A separate consultation to develop pollution prevention options for the various waste streams (i.e., hazardous waste, MSW, biomedical waste and sewage sludge) is in its final phase (see Related Information below). It is unclear how these options will be implemented nor what the timeframe for these proposed changes may be.

Environment Canada is also developing a categorization and screening selection process for the 23,000 substances in commercial use in Canada for which emission standards were never instituted. At this point, it is unclear how the screening process will identify what POPs require action in the future. Coordination of review of these separate initiatives is required by Canada to move towards the development of its NIP. Certainly, these initial efforts by Canada would not provide obstacles to its efforts to provide technical and financial assistance to other countries. Indeed such efforts may strengthen Canada's relations with others in the global community if Canada can demonstrate its commitments to eliminate POPs at home.

CELA, IPEN (see Related Information below) and other Canadian NGOs have been monitoring and responding to Canada's effort on POPs over the past four years. This level of monitoring will continue as Canada moves from participation in legal negotiations to proceeding with implementation discussions. As a first step, Canada will benefit significantly if it initiates a process to assess how effectively the domestic framework on toxic substances addresses POPs. In our view, this effort needs to be done sooner rather than later.

Canadian NGOs submitted comments on the proposed Canadian position as outlined in the Government of Canada consultation document "INC-6, Geneva, Switzerland, June 17-21, 2002 - For Canadan Stakeholder Use (May 13, 2002)". ____________________________

Fe de Leon is a CELA researcher