Jubilation as POPs negotiations end in success

Governments, NGOs, celebrate completion of text for treaty on persistent organic pollutants

After almost three years of negotiations, governments have agreed to ban eight persistent organic pollutants (POPs) and to work to eliminate DDT, PCBs, dioxins and furans. The agreement was reached on Sunday morning at the end of a week of talks in Johannesburg (ENDS Daily 4 December). The resulting text will form the basis of a treaty, to be signed next May in Stockholm.

Agreement on outstanding issues was reached after all-night talks on Saturday. The areas of difference which led to the late-night negotiations included whether to include mention of the precautionary principle, how much funding developing countries should be get to implement the treaty and a detailed register of country-specific exemptions. Announcement that a final text had been agreed was greeted by a standing ovation, with John Buccini, chair of all of the POPs negotiating sessions thus far, congratulating the 600 delegates for having created a "very good treaty".

In the end, the EU's insistence that the precautionary principle be included in any POPs treaty was accepted by the USA and Australia. It was agreed that the principle would be acknowledged in the preamble of the treaty and also mentioned in a section listing the criteria by which new chemicals would be added to the list of banned substances.

An exact amount was not agreed for funding to the developing world, but it was decided that developing countries would not be expected to meet the terms of the POPs treaty without adequate financial and technical assistance.

The eight chemicals to be banned once the treaty comes into force - which could be in about four years time - are aldrin, chlordane, dieldrin, endrin, heptachlor, mirex, toxaphene and hexachlorobenzene. As expected, tropical countries were granted an exemption to continue using DDT to control malaria until a suitable substitute is available. Phase-out of PCBs will also be gradual - existing equipment which uses PCBs will be allowed until 2025. On the issue of the "by-product" POPs, dioxins and furans, it was decided that countries will draw up action plans to reduce emissions.

The treaty text has been warmly received by NGOs. WWF said the "common commitment by the government negotiators to eliminate POPs helped sweep away the spectre of the Hague climate summit's fiasco". A Greenpeace International campaigner told ENDS Daily that the group was pleased because the text is "strong". Beyond inclusion of the precautionary principle and restrictions on the 12 substances, Greenpeace is pleased that the text includes wording obliging countries to do their utmost to prevent the marketing of new POPs and to destroy existing stockpiles by means other than incineration.

Follow Up:
UN Environment Programme, tel: +41 22 917 8244;

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