Geneva, 6 July 2001
A second round of negotiations to work out a new international law requiring companies to report to the public on their polluting emissions, under the auspices of the United Nations Economic Commission for Europe (UNECE), is ending today. The new chemicals law will come under the UNECE Aarhus Convention, which is intended to give the public more information and a greater say in environmental issues.
Under the chemicals law, countries will have to establish pollution inventories known as pollutant release and transfer registers (PRTRs). 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.
Technical experts from governments, NGOs and industry have already held three days of informal discussions over issues such as which chemicals should be covered, which types of activities should be required to report and to what extent transfers of pollutants between companies should be covered as well as releases into the environment (2-4 July 2001).
They identified toxic and polluting substances regulated under the European Union's European Pollutant Emission Register (EPER), including carbon dioxide, sulphur dioxide, nitrogen oxides, dioxins and heavy metals such as mercury, lead, cadmium and arsenic, as important to include in the registers. In addition, there was broad support among the experts for the inclusion of ozone-depleting substances (CFCs, HCFCs and Halons), though some experts pointed out that further steps might be needed to make the data available on a company-specific basis as required under a PRTR. However, no agreement has so far been reached on the inclusion of carcinogenic substances listed on Group I of the World Health Organization's International Agency for Research on Cancer – Group I being the list of substances proven to cause cancer in humans.
At the negotiators’ meeting in Geneva yesterday, an overwhelming majority of delegations stated that the new law should take the form of a protocol to the Aarhus Convention. There was also general support for the protocol being open for accession by non-UNECE countries and non-Parties to the Convention. The latter possibility could prove to be of interest to countries such as the United States and Canada which have extensive experience with mandatory pollution registers but have not signed up to the Aarhus Convention.
The draft protocol on pollutant release and transfer registers is expected to be ready in time for adoption at the Kiev Ministerial ‘Environment for Europe’ Conference (May 2003).
For more information, please contact:
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