Toxics Triple COP Parties Press “Pause” on Compliance Mechanism

By Elise Vitali, Geneva-based legal intern

As a rookie to international negotiations and a curious trainee in CIEL’s five person Environmental Health team, I attended my first Conferences of the Parties of the Basel, Rotterdam, Stockholm Conventions (BRS COPs) from April 24th to May 5th 2017. The Basel, Rotterdam and Stockholm conventions regulate the control of transboundary movements of hazardous wastes (Basel Convention), establish a procedure of prior informed consent for trade in toxic substances (Rotterdam Convention), and regulate persistent organic pollutants (Stockholm Convention). The goal of holding these conferences at the same time is to promote synergies between them. This inclusive approach is particularly interesting as it relates to the development of compliance mechanisms.

A compliance mechanism is a legal tool to ensure that Parties implement the provisions of a convention and comply with their obligations under said convention. It may facilitate, promote, monitor, and aim to secure the implementation of and compliance with the obligations under a Convention.

Currently, the Basel Convention is the only one of the three that has an Implementation and Compliance Committee (ICC), though it cannot prescribe penalties or expulsions. The negotiations to establish a Compliance Committee for the Rotterdam and the Stockholm Conventions are still underway. Contrary to my own high expectations, parties were not able to agree on compromise text to create this in either plenary or smaller contact groups.

Developing countries often have difficulties implementing the Conventions and see a compliance mechanism as a “naming-and-shaming” instrument, and they are therefore reluctant to establish one without requiring increased financial support be linked to its creation in order that they might better implement the Convention.

At the two previous COPs, Parties reached consensus on draft texts to form the basis for last month’s negotiations. At the latest triple COP however, some Parties submitted proposals calling into question fundamental issues that had already been resolved, freezing the negotiations. During a tense plenary session, Parties refused to even consider a draft proposal from the President of the Rotterdam Convention.

During the negotiations, a number of parties insisted that any compliance mechanism be designed to support countries facing difficulties and be non-punitive and non-adversarial. But even then, Parties did not agree on the composition of the committee, decision making procedures, or possible options for cases in which a country is found to be non-compliant. Some Parties questioned the need for a compliance mechanism at all, and ultimately, no progress was made. The 2017 COP found no constructive way to establish a committee in charge of implementing and assisting the compliance with Stockholm and Rotterdam Convention obligations.

In contrast, although the Basel Convention compliance mechanism does not sanction Parties and instead only “reminds” Parties or “expresses appreciation for cooperation” with non-binding statements, Parties found that the mechanisms provides much needed support for Parties struggling with implementation.

It was frustrating observing these discussions as parties re-opened issues that had already been agreed upon during previous COPs, raising the question of whether these parties actually negotiated in good faith as mandated by international law. Indeed, the draft text contained mostly what is referred to as “clean text” (i.e. text that all parties agree on) with only a few elements to be negotiated, but some parties decided to reopen negotiation on the clean text. The parties were not willing to compromise on this matter, resulting in an unjustified delay in the adoption of a compliance committee.

The BRS Conventions are designed to play a critical role in the detoxification of our future. For the sake of future generations (and CIEL’s next rookie intern’s sanity), I can only hope that parties will agree on the establishment of a compliance mechanism for the Rotterdam and Stockholm Conventions at their next meeting in two years. State-centered interests should not water down the global objective of detoxification.

Originally posted June 16, 2017