The Rotterdam Convention 2013
From April 28 to May 10, 2013, the Sixth Conference of the Parties (COP6) to the Rotterdam Convention on the Prior Informed Consent Procedure for Certain Hazardous Chemicals and Pesticides in International Trade1 will take place in Geneva. For people unused to the subtleties of international negotiations, which I am guessing includes most of us, a short primer on the Convention has been prepared.
What is the Rotterdam Convention on the Prior Informed Consent Procedure for Certain Hazardous Chemicals and Pesticides in International Trade?
The Rotterdam Convention (RC) is a United Nations protocol designed to progress environmental justice by imposing controls on the international trade in dangerous substances; this is achieved through the introduction of a right to prior informed consent protocols. In other words, exporting countries must advise importing countries of the toxic nature of designated substances so that importers might make informed decisions about whether or not they can use these substances without causing human poisoning or environmental damage.
How does the Rotterdam Convention work?
A raft of science-based procedures is in place to regulate the trade in designated pesticides and chemicals; the trigger for RC involvement is the implementation by two countries in different geographical regions of regulatory actions (bans or severe restrictions) on a particular substance to safeguard human health or the environment. Although the RC does not and cannot ban the sale or use of any substance, any decisions taken are binding by international law.
The Conference of the Parties (COP) oversees the operation of the Convention and votes on amendments including changes to the list of hazardous chemicals in Annex III.2 The Chemical Review Committee (CRC), a body of chemical management experts which is a subsidiary of the COP, is tasked with reviewing notifications and proposals received from Convention Parties; the CRC makes recommendations to the COP on the inclusion of chemicals in Annex III. Decisions taken by the COP must be consensual; this requirement did not prove problematic until attempts were made to add chrysotile (white) asbestos to Annex III.
The Issue of Chrysotile Asbestos
On previous occasions, recommendations were made that chrysotile be included in Annex III; each time a small number of Parties forestalled action from being taken.3 At the upcoming COP6, the CRC will, for the fourth time, recommend adding chrysotile to Annex III. Canada, which had orchestrated the opposition to listing chrysotile in the past, is now out of the asbestos business; officials confirmed last year that Canada will not block action on chrysotile at COP6. Russia, which had attended previous COPs as an Observer, is now a Party to the Convention. Informed sources have indicated that Russia will take an aggressive stance in blocking the listing of chrysotile.
A Decree (No. 79-r) issued by the Russian Federation on January 28, 2013 suggests the line of attack which the Russian delegation will adopt. The content of Decree No. 79-r entitled Concept of implementation of the state policy for the elimination of asbestos-related diseases for the period up until 2020, advances standard industry rhetoric based on the differentiation of amphibole and serpentine forms of asbestos. Asbestos apologists allege that, as chrysotile asbestos dissolves within the human body, there is no health hazard posed by the controlled use of chrysotile. A controversial project currently underway by the International Agency for Research and Cancer and asbestos industry-linked Russian researchers will, no doubt, be used by to mislead COP6 delegates into thinking that the hazardous nature of chrysotile asbestos remains unproven.4
Russian commercial stakeholders, who allege that inclusion on Annex III is tantamount to a ban, have taken to social media platforms to spread news of stakeholder efforts to block the listing of chrysotile. Current public relations activities mounted include the invention of Chrysotile Protection Day, marked on April 16; details and photographs from the day were featured on Facebook. A Russian language article reporting news of a 1,500 km motor rally during which participants visited major asbestos producing towns in Kazakhstan and Russia is also informative about the nature of the pro-asbestos mobilization being attempted.5
Ban asbestos activists and asbestos victims as well as diplomats and civil servants involved in the preparation for COP6 are carefully monitoring developments regarding Russia's asbestos policy. With International Workers' Memorial Day (April 28) looming on the horizon, there is reason to suspect that 2013 will bring significant changes to the focus of asbestos-themed events on that day.
April 18, 2013
1 The Convention came into force in February 2004 after twenty years of negotiations amongst national governments, intergovernmental agencies and non-governmental organizations. For more on the RC see:
3 Kazan-Allen L. Canada, A Pariah State. June 27, 2011.
4 Ruff K. UN Scientific Agency collaborating with scientists working to sabotage UN Rotterdam Convention. April 16, 2013. http://www.rightoncanada.ca/?m=201304&paged=3
Kazan-Allen L. The Lancet Highlights IARC Controversy. February 1, 2013.
5 Workers in the asbestos industry to hold an international rally in Ekaterinburg. April 12, 2013.
Also see: https://www.facebook.com/ChrysotileRU