Press Release ECE/ENV/01/01
Geneva, 28 February 2001
The United Nations Economic Commission for Europe (UNECE) is launching negotiations in Geneva today on a new legally binding instrument requiring companies to report to the public on their polluting emissions to the environment.
Under the new law countries will have to set up pollution inventories known as pollutant release and transfer registers (PRTRs). PRTR systems require corporate polluters to report periodically on their emissions of certain polluting substances to air, water and land, as well as on their off-site transfers of such substances for treatment or disposal. All this information is reported electronically and made accessible to the public, including through the Internet, subject to limited exemptions.
According to Kaj Bärlund, Director of the UNECE Environment and Human Settlements Division, PRTRs have already proved extremely effective in reducing pollution even though they regulate information about pollution, and not pollution itself. But by systematically bringing information on emissions into the public domain, PRTRs create public pressure to reduce pollution. The US system, known as the Toxics Release Inventory, is one of the most well-established PRTR systems. During its first decade, reporting companies cut their emissions by 45%.1/ Few countries in Europe have so far developed PRTR systems, though some have plans to do so.
The new UNECE law will be established under the auspices of the Aarhus Convention - the UNECE Convention on Access to Information, Public Participation in Decision-making and Access to Justice in Environmental Matters. The Convention is expected to enter into force this year. The new PRTR instrument is to be ready for adoption at the Fifth Ministerial Conference in the Environment for Europe series, scheduled to take place in Kiev in May 2003. This tight deadline will put some pressure on the negotiators, whose Working Group is expected to be chaired by Karel Blaha of the Czech Environment Ministry.
Representatives from more than 30 countries, including countries that have not signed up to the Aarhus Convention, will take part in the negotiations. The European Commission and UNITAR, as well as representatives from NGOs and the business community, are also expected to participate. This negotiating session will end on Friday, 2 March. Two more are planned for this year.
For further information, please contact:
Secretary to the Aarhus Convention
UNECE Environment and Human Settlements Division
Palais des Nations, office 332
CH - 1211 Geneva 10, Switzerland
Phone: (+41 22) 917 23 84
Fax: (+41 22) 907 01 07 or 917 06 34
Web site: http://www.unece.org/env/pp/
1/ United States Environmental Protection Agency, 1997 Toxics Release Inventory Public Data Release Report (Washington D.C., US EPA, 1999).