BRS and the GEF: working together to rid the world of persistent organic pollutants (POPs)

July 21, 2016

Photo via Flickr CC

The Stockholm Convention on Persistent Organic Pollutants (POPs) was adopted on 22 May 2001 and entered into force on 17 May 2004. By 1 June 2016 180 parties had committed to take measures to eliminate or reduce the release of POPs into the environment.

The Stockholm Convention is a global treaty to protect human health and the environment from chemicals that remain intact in the environment for long periods, become widely distributed geographically, accumulate in the fatty tissue of humans and wildlife, and have harmful impacts on human health or on the environment.

After first targeting the identification, listing and then phase-out of the so-called “dirty dozen” (legacy chemicals) including Polychlorinated biphenyls (PCB), Dieldrin, Endrin, Hexachlorobenzene (HCB), DDT and others, the Convention has moved on to the listing of new POPs, focussing now on chemicals that are used very widely as constituent substances in a variety of pesticides, industrial chemicals, and commercial processes. These POPs, such as hexachlorobutadiene, polychlorinated naphthalenes, and technical Endosulfan and its isomers, require a holistic life-cycle approach for their sound management. Their cross-sectoral use and the increasing need to focus on downstream and upstream users has also necessitated a shift away from turn-key projects dealing with obsolete stockpiles of legacy POPs, towards new and innovative project approaches including market transformation through private sector engagement.

The GEF, as the principal entity entrusted with the operations of the Financial Mechanism on an interim basis, is well adapted to tackle these shifting requirements given its catalytic role in addressing the drivers of chemical pollution at all levels.

In response to this global challenge and in support of the international community’s efforts to eliminate or reduce POPs as provided in the Convention, the GEF has financed the national implementation plans and national implementation plans updates in all eligible Parties, financed the phase-out of the production of Chlordane and Mirex and the use of DDT to produce Dicofol, supported the identification and deployment of alternatives to DDT for vector control, including non-chemical alternatives, implemented PCB projects in over 50% of Parties, and removed tens of thousands of tons of obsolete chemicals and stockpiles in all regions of the world. At the same time, the GEF is fostering the development of new project approaches that address the challenges of legacy and new POPs in a progressive and innovative manner. Focussed on stimulating transformational change by leveraging national finances and incentivising the private sector, the following GEF-supported projects are examples of such cutting-edge approaches:

  • The greening of the scrap metal value chain through the promotion of best available technologies and best environmental practices to reduce unintentionally produced POPs releases from recycling facilities in Thailand is a UNIDO-implemented project that promotes the principles of a Green Economy by strengthening the management of natural resources at the national level;
  • The project on reduction and phase-out of PFOS in China is implemented by the World Bank and addresses a newly listed POP in a holistic manner in the country;
  • UNEP and WHO are implementing a project on the strengthening of capacities for sustainable management of vector-borne diseases including alternatives to DDT in Africa. The project marks an innovative way of reducing the reliance on DDT through the introduction of chemical and non-chemical alternatives;
  • The project on reducing unintentional POPs and mercury releases from healthcare waste management, e-waste treatment, scrap processing and biomass burning in Latin America, which is implemented by UNDP and the Colombian Ministry of Environment and Sustainable Development, not only promotes synergies among the chemicals and waste conventions, but also addresses the important health-environment nexus.

These projects continue to support very directly the core objective of the Convention which is to protect human health and the environment from POPs. These projects have also triggered further implementation across the globe by acting as inspirational demonstration channels, showcasing best available technologies and best environmental practices and supplying a wealth of public awareness and communications materials. The project outputs have been effectively utilised by the GEF Secretariat, for example through the well-distributed short documentary film “Planet Detox”, which continues to focus public view on the need for sustainable management of chemicals and waste.

With the adoption of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) in 2015, the focus of the international community now lies firmly on the implementation of the 2030 agenda. It is evident that the environmentally sound management of chemicals and waste affects almost all aspects of development and therefore, supports the implementation of many, if not all SDGs.  The GEF, with its 25 years of experience and its innovative project approaches, is well positioned to be be fully supportive of post 2030 development agenda by continuning its mandate of the sustainable management of chemicals and waste.