Rotterdam Convention Primer 2023
The Eleventh Conference of the Parties (COP11) to the Rotterdam Convention on the Prior Informed Consent Procedure for Certain Hazardous Chemicals and Pesticides in International Trade1 is now taking place in Geneva (May 1-12, 2023). For people unused to the subtleties of international negotiations, which I am guessing includes most of us, a short primer on the Convention has been prepared.
What is the Rotterdam Convention on the Prior Informed Consent Procedure for Certain Hazardous Chemicals and Pesticides in International Trade?
The Rotterdam Convention (RC) is a United Nations treaty designed to progress environmental justice by imposing controls on the international trade in dangerous substances; this is achieved through the introduction of a right to prior informed consent protocols. In other words, exporting countries must advise importing countries of the toxic nature of designated substances so that importers might make informed decisions about whether or not they can use these substances without poisoning the population and/or damaging the environment.
How does the Rotterdam Convention work?
A raft of science-based procedures is in place to regulate the trade in designated pesticides and chemicals; the trigger for RC involvement is the implementation by two countries in different geographical regions of regulatory actions (bans or severe restrictions) on a particular substance to safeguard human health or the environment. Although the RC does not and cannot ban the sale or use of any substance, any decisions taken are binding by international law.2
The Conference of the Parties (COP) oversees the operation of the Convention and votes on amendments including changes to the list of hazardous chemicals in Annex III.3 The Chemical Review Committee (CRC), a body of chemical management experts which is a subsidiary of the COP, is tasked with reviewing notifications and proposals received from Convention Parties; the CRC makes recommendations to the COP on the inclusion of chemicals in Annex III. Decisions taken by the COP must be consensual; this requirement did not prove problematic until attempts were made to add chrysotile (white) asbestos to Annex III.
The Issue of Chrysotile Asbestos
On eight previous occasions, recommendations were made that chrysotile be included in Annex III; each time a small number of Parties forestalled action from being taken.4 At COP11 (2023), the CRC will, once again, recommend adding chrysotile to Annex III. Russia, which had led opposition to listing chrysotile previously, has already indicated it will do so again.
In a letter to the Rotterdam Secretariat, Ms. Inna Kulikova, the official Rotterdam Convention contact point for the Russian Federation,5 wrote:
The Russian Federation cannot agree with the decision to include chrysotile asbestos in the list of chemicals subject to the prior informed consent procedure (Annex III of the Convention), proposes to remove the issue from the agenda and considers it inappropriate to continue discussions on this issue at the level of the Meeting of the Conference of the Parties without providing up-to-date objective scientific data.6
Global anti-asbestos campaigners and asbestos victims as well as diplomats and civil servants involved in the preparation and deliberations for COP11 are carefully monitoring developments. Watch this space!
May 9, 2023
1 The Convention came into force in February 2004 after twenty years of negotiations amongst national governments, intergovernmental agencies and non-governmental organizations. For more on the RC see:
2 In a somewhat ironic twist of fate, a fortnight before COP 11, questions were being asked about the presence of asbestos at the Geneva International Conference Centre; no replies from the building owners or the Rotterdam Secretariat were received.
Kazan-Allen, L. Asbestos Hazard at UN Meeting? April 26, 2023.
3 The Convention: How it works. Accessed May 7, 2023.
4 Kazan-Allen, L. Light at the End of the Tunnel? February 21, 2023.
5 Whilst, at least some UN bodies acknowledged the murderous behaviour of Russia in light of its attack on Ukraine and disqualified it from participating as an equal member in UN deliberations, no such action has been taken by the Rotterdam Convention Secretariat.
Kazan-Allen, L. June 2022: Success and Shame in Geneva. June 16, 2022.
Kazan-Allen, L. Russian Assault on United Nations Convention. June 6, 2022.
6 RC Secretariat. Compilation of comments received from Parties relating to the recommendation by the Chemical Review Committee on the listing of chemicals and severely hazardous pesticide formulations in Annex III to the Rotterdam Convention. Accessed May 7, 2023.