Our Stolen Futurea book by Theo Colborn, Dianne Dumanoski, and John Peterson Myers
 
 

 

 

press coverage

Delegates from 122 nations ended negotiations in Johannesburg, South Africa, on 10 December 2000 with an international agreement to control health and environment risks posed by 12 persistent organic pollutants by reducing or eliminating their production and release into the environment. The treaty will be signed at a ministerial meeting in Stockholm, Sweden, in May, and will go into effect once it has been ratified by 50 nations.

Public health advocates greet government representatives arriving at the UN negotiations in Johannesburg, South Africa.

Under the terms of the treaty, nations are committed to eventual elimination of POPs chemicals. Timetables for elimination vary among the 12 chemicals, depending upon the details of their use and production.

The treaty includes provisions for financial assistance to developing nations to meet treaty obligations, for adding new chemicals to the treaty, and for public health exceptions that will allow DDT to be used for malaria control while efforts continue to find alternatives to this dangerous compound.

One of the most controversial aspects of negotiations leading to the agreement was over the role of the Precautional Principle in the treaty in general and specifically over criteria to be used in evaluating whether and which additional chemicals should be added to the convention. For most of the negotiations, a coalition of nations that included the United States, Japan, Australia and Canada adamantly opposed explicitly precautionary measures in the treaty language on this issue, while the European Union was the strongest proponent for precaution. The US-lead group argued that the Precautionary Principle was "unscientific." Behind this claim was a concern that using the Precautionary Principle would make it too easy to add new chemicals. In contrast, the EU argued that in the face of uncertainty, when scientific knowledge of the impacts of chemicals was not complete but enough information was available to raise legitimate concerns, the treaty should act to protect public health.

In the end, the US and others accepted the need for precautionary approaches in evaluating new chemicals for inclusion while also requiring that the process involve a rigorous scientific review of potential health effects.

Notably uncontroversial was the proposal for public health exceptions for DDT use. Despite the efforts by a small group of advocates (including some with clear links to US-based right-wing organizations) to use this issue to drive a wedge between developed and developing countries, and thereby to prevent a successful conclusion to the negotiations, virtually all other participants reached a broad consensus over a year ago on the need to allow continued DDT use while simultaneously searching for safer alternatives.

Important contributors to this consensus were the World Health Organization (through its "Roll Back Malaria Program), the World Wildlife Fund, and key delegations from the developing world (notably Thailand).

The same group of advocates using DDT as a wedge issue also attempted to undermine agreements on financial mechanisms to assist developing nations in meeting their treaty obligations. Here their efforts focused on fueling developing country distrust of the Global Environment Facility.

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note: access to press coverage may be limited by website policies of the media outlets

More information from StopPOPs, a coalition of NGOs working in support of a strong POPs convention.

 
   

 

 

 

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