Intervenor: vol. 26, no. 2 - 3, April - August 2001

The Signing of the Stockholm Convention on Persistent Organic Pollutants

After two and a half years of negotiating a global treaty to eliminate persistent organic pollutants (POPs), the decision makers from around the globe successfully agreed to a treaty last December during the final hours of the intergovernmental negotiating committee (INC) meeting in South Africa (Also read Intervenor Volume 26, Number 1). In a historic diplomatic conference at the City Conference Centre that took place on May 22 and 23 of 2001 in Stockholm, Sweden, the Stockholm Convention on Persistent Organic Pollutants (Stockholm Convention) was signed. At the diplomatic conference a total of 91 countries out of the 115 participating countries and the European Union signed the Stockholm Convention. In a significant moment, Canada immediately became the first (Fiji has since ratified as well!) to ratify the Convention shortly after the signing ceremony. This development was well received by the public interest NGOs present in Stockholm and certainly by the Canadian NGOs. The United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) was congratulated by participating countries for conducting a quick and efficient process to agree on a legally binding Convention that aims to eliminate POPs from the global environment. The Stockholm Convention was preceded by a preparatory meeting that was held on the Monday prior to the main meeting of the Parties with the purpose of finalizing a few resolutions that were not fully completed during the intergovernmental negotiating session in South Africa in December 2000. These resolutions addressed interim arrangements; a capacity assistance network; and liability issues relating to the Convention. Most of these resolutions were adopted and included in the Final Act. (One of the big outstanding issues are that there is no interim arrangements that would monitor implementation activities - and the World Bank/GEF/ UNEP/UNDP capacity assistance network is still only interim pending later approval.)

Canada's announcement to ratify the Convention demonstrated its commitment to address the impacts of POPs on the global environment and human health population, in particular to its own Northern Arctic ecosystem and community. The Canadian delegation led by Honourable David Anderson, Canada's Minister of the Environment, was well represented throughout the Stockholm Convention with a delegation of 16 people. During a speech at the Conference, Minister Anderson spoke highly of this Convention and the importance of its goals. The effects of POPs on Canadian Inuit peoples and the northern ecosystem have been a driving force in Canada's participation throughout these negotiations and the ratification of the Convention. Canada's commitment was symbolized, first, with Canada hosting the initial INC meeting in Montréal in June 1998, holding the position of Chair person of the INC and by contributing $20 million to support the financial and technical assistance framework required to implement the obligations of a POPs Convention in developing countries.

In his speech, Minister Anderson emphasized that the level of action required to have an impact on POPs will require significant technical and financial assistance to developing countries and those countries in economic transition. As noted, Canada was one of a few OECD countries to make a financial commitment to the trust fund that is to be administered by the World Bank on behalf of the implementing agencies - UNDP, GEF, UNEP and the World Bank to ensure that the obligations of a Convention would be met. Finally, Minister Anderson challenged the global community to ratify the Convention and have the Convention enter into force by the September 2002 World Summit on Sustainable Development scheduled in Johannesburg, South Africa.

The global community including the Canadian environmental community will monitor the progress of implementation activities.

Stéphane Gingras was a member of the Canadian delegation to these negotiations in Johannesburg, South Africa in December 2000 and in Stockholm, Sweden in May 2001.

Morag Carter has been active on the POPs negotiation process since 1998 and is currently the International Coordinator for the International POPs Elimination Network.