The final Conference of the Parties of the Rotterdam Convention (COP5) prior to Russia becoming a convention member was, it was generally thought, the last chance for agreement to be reached on the thorny subject of including chrysotile asbestos on the Prior Informed Consent list of the Convention.1 COP5, which began in Geneva on Monday, June 20, will continue till the end of the week.
When the chrysotile issue was first discussed during the plenary session on Tuesday morning (June 21), objections raised by five countries Ukraine, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, India and Vietnam were enough to block listing. Despite recommendations by the Convention Secretariat and support for listing by 139 parties to the Convention (97%), the veto by asbestos stakeholder governments stopped things dead or so it was thought. Although Canadian delegates did not voice their objection to listing chrysotile at this time letting others do their dirty work for them during the plenary discussion, representatives of the Canadian and Russian asbestos industry were highly vocal.
On Tuesday evening, a session on chrysotile mounted by the Rotterdam Convention Alliance (ROCA) was held, during which ROCA representatives from developing countries presented evidence of the misuse of asbestos in their countries. The photographs and evidence they displayed generated aggressive behavior and accusations from industry lobbyists who called the ROCA speakers liars and accused well-known non-governmental campaigning organizations of corruption.
A bombshell exploded on Wednesday morning when the Indian delegation announced their country's withdrawal of its objection to listing chrysotile. At news of this development, there was a standing ovation in the conference hall and hope was reborn that India might be able to persuade its one-time allies to support listing. Progress must have been achieved during the day as news was disseminated that a consensus had been reached which would have allowed the listing to proceed. Unfortunately, at that point, Canada showed its true colors with the statement made by government delegate David Sproulu: Canada is not in a position to support the listing of chrysotile in Annex 3. Canada is unable to join the consensus." According to ROCA delegate Madhu Dutta, once that announcement was made: all hell broke loose. There is no doubt that Canada had never intended the listing to proceed; when it became clear that opposition to listing had evaporated, Canada, Ms. Dutta wrote, broke its sinister silence and said no.
With two more days of negotiations and meetings remaining, who knows what could happen.
June 22, 2011
1 With annual asbestos production of 1 million tonnes, Russia is the world's biggest supplier of chrysotile asbestos.