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Enhanced cooperation among industrial safety and land-use planning communities is critical to reduce risks of industrial accidents, within and across borders

Severe accidents remind us time and time again of the need to invest in their prevention, and to mitigate their consequences, which can be far-reaching and transboundary. The cyanide spill in Baia Mare, Romania in 2000 demonstrated the devastating effects that an accident at a mining company can have on the local population (who continue to endure health-related effects today) and the environment. The far-reaching effects in this case were felt in riparian countries, which suffered from polluted drinking water.

Land-use planning has a crucial role to play in mitigating industrial safety risks when deciding on the location of industrial sites and the planning of the use of land around them - as showcased by the video “The benefits of enhanced cooperation between land-use planning and industrial safety” which was launched at the UNECE seminar on land-use planning and industrial safety held in Mechelen, Belgium, 16-17 May 2018.

The seminar, organized by UNECE, the government of Flanders (Belgium) and the European Investment Bank (the EU Bank), brought together industrial safety and land-use planning communities from 32 countries. It also involved related communities, including on environmental impact assessment, strategic environmental assessment and disaster risk reduction. It further gathered stakeholders from national and local governments, UN organizations, urban planners, and the private sector.

Bringing these diverse perspectives together, stakeholders agreed on the following:

  • Enhanced cooperation and coordination between land-use planners and industrial safety experts is critical to ensure that proper processes and well-informed decisions are made on the siting of new hazardous industrial facilities, significant modifications to existing facilities, the establishment of new land uses and development, and changes in land use surrounding hazardous facilities. Numerous innovative measures and good practices exist on how to enhance cooperation in practice, including making information on risk assessments available in an easily understandable form to land-use planners.
  • Transboundary cooperation in practice on land-use planning and siting decisions involving industrial safety considerations is still rare. There is a need to further promote the implementation of the UNECE Convention on the Transboundary Effects of Industrial Accidents (Industrial Accidents Convention) and other relevant legal instruments, such as the UNECE Convention on Environmental Impact Assessment in a Transboundary Context (Espoo Convention), its Protocol on Strategic Environmental Assessment (Protocol on SEA), the UNECE Convention on Access to Information, Public Participation in Decision-making and Access to Justice in Environmental Matters (Aarhus Convention), policy frameworks such as the UN Charter on Sustainable Housing, and the UNECE Guidance on Land-Use Planning, the Siting of Hazardous Activities and related Safety Aspects. Enhanced cooperation among national authorities, to notify neighbouring countries about proposed industrial facilities and to consult each other on ways to mitigate the effects of accidents, is important in this regard. Information sharing with the public and its participation are crucial in a transboundary setting in order make sound decisions on land use and the siting of facilities which may have cross-border impacts.
  • The land-use planning and industrial safety communities need to share information at the earliest stages possible of a land-use plan, programme or decision on the siting or modification of a specific project, such as a hazardous industrial facility, in order be able to effectively cooperate to reduce risks to people and the environment.
  • Effective land-use planning and industrial safety integration is key in order to manage and reduce disaster risks, and to achieve the goals of the Sendai Framework for Disaster Risk Reduction. Climate change and the increasing intensity and frequency of extreme weather events, together with the associated risks of natural disasters triggering technological accidents, needs to be taken into account in the decision-making process on the siting of industrial facilities and surrounding land use.

The seminar helped to build significant momentum, and provided an opportunity to understand existing approaches and good practices. Countries were encouraged to make further use of these, and to continue to develop their own approaches to improve the integration between industrial safety and land-use planning considerations – both formally, through policies/legislation, and in practice. Bringing together land-use planning and industrial safety considerations benefits everyone: it protects lives and livelihoods, benefits our economies and encourages safe and efficient industrial activity.