Negotiations on a legally binding instrument on civil liability and compensation for damage caused by the transboundary effects of major industrial accidents involving hazardous substances on transboundary waters came to a successful conclusion in Geneva yesterday.
The instrument has been developed over the past 15 months under the auspices of the United Nations Economic Commission for Europe (UNECE), as a protocol to both the Convention on the Protection and Use of Transboundary Watercourses and International Lakes and the Convention on the Transboundary Effects of Industrial Accidents. The proposal to draw up such a legally binding instrument was first made in the wake of the accident at a tailings dam at Baia Mare (Romania) in January 2000, when the spillage of 100,000 tons of waste water with highly toxic pollutants, including cyanide, led to massive water pollution of the Tisza and the Danube Rivers.
The negotiating process was unique because it involved all the stakeholders: the UNECE member countries, industry, the insurance sector, and intergovernmental and non-governmental organizations.
The agreement had been negotiated in a way to speed up its ratification. Its scope, its limits of liability and its limit for financial guarantees are precise and realistic.
What effect will this new Protocol have?
- The Protocol gives individuals affected by the transboundary impact of industrial accidents on international watercourses, e.g. fishermen or downstream waterworks, a legal claim to compensation. It fills one of the major gaps in international environmental legislation.
- Operators of industrial installations, including tailing dams, and pipelines, will be liable for damage under the Protocol depending on the risk they pose, i.e. the quantities of hazardous substances present and their toxicity. For instance, following an accident at an enterprise where more than 80 tons of very toxic substances, e.g. cyanides, are present, the company will be held liable for some US$ 50 million. To cover this liability, companies will have to establish financial securities, such as insurance or other guarantees.
- It is expected that the Protocol will draw the attention of operators to the need to minimize risk and prevent damage that they will henceforth be liable for. So it will help to prevent industrial accidents from happening in the first place and limit their adverse effects on people and the environment.
The Protocol is expected to be formally adopted and signed at the forthcoming Ministerial Conference “Environment for Europe” in Kiev, Ukraine, on 21 May 2003. The successful results of these regional negotiations will be shared in March with a worldwide audience at the third World Water Forum in Kyoto, Japan.
For more information, please contact:
Secretary to the Convention on the Transboundary Effects
of Industrial Accidents
UNECE Environment and Human Settlements Division
Palais des Nations, office 409
CH-1211 Geneva 10, Switzerland