UNUnited Nations Economic Commission for Europe

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NEW UNITED NATIONS TREATY ON POLLUTION INFORMATION DISCLOSURE
TO BE ADOPTED AND SIGNED TODAY


Geneva, 21 May 2003 - A new international treaty under which companies will be required to publicly disclose information on their output of pollutants will be adopted and signed today at the Fifth Ministerial Conference 'Environment for Europe' in Kiev, Ukraine 1 . Some thirty-five2 or so countries are expected to sign the ground-breaking treaty, which has been developed over the past two years under the auspices of the United Nations Economic Commission for Europe, in the form of a legally binding protocol to the Aarhus Convention.3

Under the new Protocol, companies will be required to report annually on their releases (into the environment) and transfers (to other companies) of certain pollutants. The information will then be placed on a public register, known as a pollutant release and transfer register or PRTR.

Some of the features of the new PRTR Protocol are:

  • Each Party to the Protocol will be required to establish a publicly accessible and user-friendly PRTR based on mandatory reporting.
  • The register will cover information on 86 pollutants considered to pose significant threats to the environment or public health, including greenhouse gases, acid rain pollutants, heavy metals and cancer-causing chemicals such as dioxins.
  • Reporting will be required for a wide range of large-scale activities, including refineries, thermal power stations, the chemical and mining industries, waste incinerators, wood and paper production and processing, and intensive agriculture and aquaculture.
  • While the primary focus of the Protocol is on large point sources of pollution, it also provides a framework for reporting on pollution from diffuse sources such as traffic, agriculture and small and medium-sized enterprises.
  • Some of the reported information may be kept confidential, for example where disclosure could affect commercial confidentiality, national defence or public security, but such exemptions should be interpreted in a restrictive way, taking into account the public interest served by disclosure.
  • Releases to air, water and land are to be reported. Information should be provided and made available on the register facility by facility, so that members of the public will be able to find out about the annual pollution outputs of factories in their neighbourhoods when these are covered by the Protocol.
  • The register should be accessible through the Internet and searchable according to the separate parameters (facility, pollutant, location, medium etc).
  • Parties to the Protocol are free to establish more accessible or extensive registers than required by the Protocol, e.g. including more pollutants or additional facilities or providing fuller public access. In other words, the Protocol sets only minimum requirements.

Through their 'name and shame' effect, PRTRs can be an effective instrument for indirectly encouraging companies to reduce pollution, since none will want to be seen as among the worst polluters.

Although the Protocol has been developed under the auspices of UNECE, it is open to signature and accession by any member State of the United Nations. In this way, it is expected to establish a new global benchmark.


For further information, please contact:

Jeremy WATES
Secretary to the Aarhus Convention
UNECE Environment and Human Settlements Division
Palais des Nations, office 332
CH - 1211 Geneva 10, Switzerland

Phone: +41 (0) 22 917 23 84 or +41 (0) 79 217 30 28 (mobile)
Fax: +41 (0) 22 907 01 07
E-mail: jeremy.wates@unece.org and jeremy_wates@hotmail.com

Web site: http://www.unece.org/env/pp/prtr.htm

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1 The Protocol will be adopted at an extraordinary session of the Meeting of the Parties to Aarhus Convention, which will take place from 17.00 to 18.00 today, 21 May, in the plenary hall of the International Exhibition Centre, Kiev, Ukraine.

2 The exact number and the names of the countries signing the Protocol will only be known at approximately 19.30, following the signing ceremony for this Protocol and the Protocols on strategic environmental assessment and civil liability that will take place in the Press Conference Hall.

3 The UNECE Convention on Access to Information, Public Participation in Decision-making and Access to Justice in Environmental Matters was adopted in the Danish city of Aarhus in June 1998 and entered into force in October 2001. It has 40 Signatories, including the European Community, and 24 Parties.

 

Ref: ECE/ENV/03/P10