RECETOX contributes to the evaluation of the Stockholm Convention

13 Aug 2021

An alternative way for transferring knowledge: RECETOX contributes to the evaluation of the Stockholm Convention

An increasingly important means by which universities and research institutes translate knowledge and technology acquired from R&D into practice is through policy-making at local, national, or international levels. Whether in public health or environmental protection,  scientists’ and other professionals’ expert input is indispensable. One concrete example of cooperation between the scientific community and international or intergovernmental policymakers is the Stockholm Convention on Persistent Organic Pollutants, celebrating its twentieth anniversary in 2021.

The Convention, based on the so-called “precautionary principle,” provides an international legal framework designed to eliminate the production, use, import, and export of persistent organic pollutants (or POPs) listed in the Convention, to lead to safe management and disposal, and, for unintentionally produced POPs, to eliminate or reduce their release into the environment. The Convention, which initially included 12 substances, currently includes 30. These substances were used as pesticides, industrial chemicals, or unintentionally produced. The Convention has evolved and will continue to do so to account for the changing chemical landscape.

The Convention’s effectiveness is ensured through periodic evaluations stipulated in Article 16 of the Convention. The evaluation aims to assess whether the Stockholm Convention effectively protects human health and the environment from persistent organic pollutants. Specifically, the evaluation focuses on whether:

  • substances were successfully eliminated from production and use
  • the occurrence of substances is decreasing, or their unintentional release into the environment (e.g., as intermediate products or waste) has been prevented
  • substances from stocks and waste are not released into the environment
  • levels of POPs in the environment decrease following their inclusion in the Convention.

One of the experts involved in evaluating the Stockholm Convention is Dr. Kateřina Šebková, the Director of the National and Regional Stockholm Convention Centres at RECETOX - Masaryk University, with whom we discussed the procedure for evaluating the Convention’s effectiveness.

How does the evaluation work, and how often do colleagues meet?

The evaluation takes two years to complete. It is organized every six years to ensure that changes in the evaluated parameters are statistically significant. During the evaluation, implementation of each Convention article is examined based on available information, progress reports, or other official data and compared with the previous period. Finally, measures for improving implementation are proposed. 

This year (2021) Stockholm Convention’s effectiveness will be evaluated for the third time. The first evaluation report (pilot) was completed in 2008, the second in 2015, and the third in 2022. In July 2021, the Conference of Parties to the Stockholm Convention appointed experts to the Effectiveness Evaluation Committee. The experts will meet twice in person and numerous times online during 2022 to produce the evaluation report, which will be presented to the Convention for approval at its 11th regular session in 2023.

Who is involved, and what expertise is needed for the evaluation? Are the evaluators external experts, secretariat staff, or representatives of national bodies?

Evaluation Committee members are both experts and representatives of Member States. Each of the five UN regions is represented by two members. A colleague from Serbia and myself represent the Central and Eastern Europe region in this evaluation. Then there are also two external experts, appointed by the Convention Secretariat, one representing the experts on monitoring of POPs in the environment, appointed by the Global Monitoring Plan Coordination Group, and, if the Convention has already a Convention Compliance Committee, a representative of that committee, who is usually a lawyer. However, the Stockholm Convention has not yet been able to find political consensus on this issue, so this committee does not exist, and the position will remain vacant.

Members of the Effectiveness Review Committee must be familiar with the Convention, and its processes and preferably have experience in evaluations at national or international levels. Their expertise does not need to be in science - on the contrary; it is preferable to include experts with economic, social/political, and technical backgrounds in the group, as the evaluation covers all these areas.

In addition to Committee members, the evaluation is also supported by the Convention Secretariat, responsible for preparing several background papers and progress reports used as inputs to the report.

Based on your experience, is the Stockholm Convention effective?

The Stockholm Convention works. As evidence, global levels of monitored substances have been decreasing because countries have taken measures to remove substances from production or use - and we can see the evidence of this in the POPs monitoring reports, which track changes in concentrations of substances in the air, breast milk and water. In addition, there are other parts of the Convention where it works very well - for example, the inclusion of new substances that pose a risk to the environment and humans – 18 new substances have been included between 2009 and 2019, thus contributing to improving the protection of human health and the environment. On the other hand, we are still falling short in terms of managing and disposal of PCBs. During the evaluation, we examine the reasons for this delay and propose measures to improve the situation. The Conference meeting will then consider our report and proposals and either approve "our" measures or modify them, but it will always be a step towards better protecting health and the environment.

The evaluation mechanism seems to be effective. Do other conventions, such as the Rotterdam, Basel, and Minamata Conventions, follow a similar procedure?

Of the conventions mentioned above, only the Stockholm convention employs such a mechanism. The Basel and Rotterdam Conventions lack such a mechanism; however, due to close cooperation between the three Conventions since 2011, the Stockholm Convention’s evaluation and recommendations will also affect how these two Conventions function. In the Minamata Convention’s case, the evaluation mechanism components are still being finalized. The Minamata Convention’s text states its first evaluation will occur no later than six years after it enters into force. Unfortunately, the current global epidemiological situation does not make it easy for us to finalize and, above all, approve the mechanism. 

 

We will focus on the evaluation outcomes lately. 


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