Entry into force of more stringent regulations on persistent organic pollutants in UNECE region milestone

Developed in the first half of the 20th century, persistent organic pollutants (POPs) have been regulated or banned as widespread public concern over their toxicological effects for human health and the environment has increased. Research has shown that exposure to POPs can lead to serious health effects including certain cancers, birth defects, dysfunctional immune and reproductive systems, greater susceptibility to disease and damages to the central and peripheral nervous systems.

20 January will mark an important step in international efforts to address emissions of POPs to the atmosphere with the entry into force of amendments to the 1998 Protocol on Persistent Organic Pollutants, adopted in 2009, in 23 countries in Europe and North America: Austria, Canada, Croatia, Cypris, Czechia, Denmark, Estonia, European Union, Finland, France, Germany, Ireland, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Netherlands, Norway, Romania, Slovakia, Slovenia, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, and the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland. Further Parties to the original Protocol are expected to accept the amendments in the coming months. According to the Air Convention’s Scientific Assessment Report, POP emissions in the EMEP region decreased by 40% (PAHs) to 85% (polychlorinated biphenyls, Polychlorinated Biphenyls (PCB); and hexachlorobenzene, HCB) since 1990.

The amended Protocol, negotiated under the UNECE Convention on Long-range Transboundary Air Pollution (Air Convention), further steps up Parties’ efforts to regulate or get rid of POPs in the region by broadening the Protocol’s scope to include new substances: hexachlorobutadiene, octabromodiphenyl ether, pentachlorobenzene, pentabromodiphenyl ether, perfluorooctane sulfonates. The amendments now in force also upgrade the protocol’s obligations for eliminating the production and use of DDT, heptachlor, hexachlorobenzene and polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) and for fixing emission limit values from waste incineration. Parallel to this, and with a view to facilitating the Protocol’s ratification by countries with economies in transition in Eastern Europe, Caucasus and Central Asia, flexibilities for these countries regarding the time frames for the application of emission limit values and best available techniques. These flexibilities now also enter into force.

The Protocol on POPs, which was signed in 1998 and entered into force in 2003, constituted the first international action to eliminate or curtail POPs. It has been a pioneer in the international fight against POPs and has served as a model for regulating POPs both at the European and global levels, including under the Stockholm Convention on POPs.

UNECE Executive Secretary Olga Algayerova stated: “The Air Convention, with 40 years of successful cooperation to tackle air pollution, remains the only regional policy solution of its kind anywhere in the world. Stepped-up efforts by Parties, such as under the Protocol on POPs, are the right signal in addressing air pollution in the region.”

Chair of the Executive Body of the Air Convention, Anna Engleryd, stressed that “the entry into force of the amended Protocol on POPs shows the importance of concerted action and cooperation among countries. No one country alone can solve the problem of air pollution.”

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