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UNECE Protocol on PRTRs promotes modernization of reporting by industry in ‎support of Sustainable Development Goals ‎

By enhancing transparency and accountability, Pollutant Release and Transfer Registers (PRTRs) can play a central role in promoting peaceful and inclusive societies and good governance (Sustainable Development Goal 16) across the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. PRTRs can also make an important contribution to achieving specific Sustainable Development Goals, in particular Goals 3 (good health and well-being), 6 (clean water and sanitation), 9 (industry innovation and infrastructure), 11 (sustainable cities and communities) and 12 (responsible consumption and production). The UNECE Protocol on Pollutant Release and Transfer Registers (Protocol on PRTRs) has been used across the globe as a prototype for establishing reporting by industry on pollutant releases and waste transfers and for providing public access to related information. 

The Protocol on PRTRs is the only global legally binding treaty on this subject, with the work under this instrument being led by Sweden. Together with partner organizations – including the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), the United Nations Institute for Training and Research (UNITAR), the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) and the European Environment Agency (EEA) – UNECE is helping countries to establish effective PRTR systems that meet common international standards.   

At the seventh meeting of the Working Group of the Parties to the Protocol on PRTRs (Geneva, 28–29 November 2019), Parties, other countries and stakeholders shared their experiences in establishing PRTRs, in particular focusing on their modernization and on major capacity-building needs.

Examples of modernization were shared by the European Union, Sweden and Serbia. Speakers illustrated how upgraded PRTR systems can be used to improve monitoring and controlling of input and output parameters from industrial activities, such as energy consumption, pollutant releases and transfer of waste. Such PRTRs could respond to critical demands for the above-mentioned data, which are currently unavailable but which are essential in promoting the circular economy and achieving the Sustainable Development Goals. Using PRTRs for reporting obligations of other national and international instruments (for example, multilateral environmental agreements (MEAs)) can, in turn, help companies and authorities to save resources and avoid duplication of efforts.

Ways of modernizing PRTR systems presented by speakers included: modules for the collection of data on resource consumption; the review of current reporting on pollutant releases; the implementation of the European Union Emissions Trading System; and putting into practice the “polluter pays” principle using PRTRs. It was also shown how PRTRs can facilitate reporting for industry when used by countries as a “single window” for such reporting. 

Representatives of Georgia, Kazakhstan, Morocco, North Macedonia and the Republic of Moldova shared their countries’ achievements in establishing PRTRs and outlined several remaining challenges. Achievements included: the establishment of pilot PRTRs; the provision of pollutant-related information to the public; active government support for initiatives furthering pollution prevention in industrial processes; and the use of PRTRs as a platform for educational purposes related to pollution and use of chemical substances.  Challenges included: a lack of institutional and expert capacity; the limitations of cross-sectoral cooperation; the need to increase awareness among stakeholders; and the need to secure long-term political support for PRTRs.  Furthermore, participants commended Kazakhstan for the progress made in establishing its PRTR system and for completing a national procedure on the ratification of the Protocol.

The representatives of EEA, UNITAR and OECD presented opportunities for capacity-building, including through a variety of general and specific guidance materials. In that regard, the representatives referred to: work designed to support the use of PRTRs for monitoring achievements in the field of sustainable development; the embedding of PRTRs within governmental open data portals; a step-by-step approach to building a properly functioning PRTR system; and measurement methods, such as the use of emission factors and the calculation and estimation of pollutant releases.

The Chair of the International PRTR Coordinating Group, a body led by Spain, presented an updated map illustrating the development of PRTRs around the world and stressed the importance of coordinating PRTR activities at the global level, including through greater leverage of existing online sources of PRTR-related information, such as PRTR.net.

The experiences shared at the meeting and its outcomes are expected to: assist Parties and interested Governments in the region and beyond in establishing and modernizing their PRTR systems; and promote PRTRs as a reporting tool for all relevant MEAs, in particular those dealing with chemicals and pollution.

The meeting report, along with the presentations and other related documents, will be made available on the meeting web page: https://www.unece.org/index.php?id=50979.