The Stockholm Convention is an international treaty that aims to ban or limit production and use of persistent organic pollutants.
This UN treaty was created to control hazardous chemicals that can last a long time in the environment, increase in concentration – or bioaccumulate – in the food chain, and travel long distances in air or water.
Initially, the Stockholm Convention covered 12 of these persistent organic pollutants (POPs) – the so-called dirty dozen – but new chemicals were included in 2009.
Under the convention, parties agree to either eliminate chemicals (Annex A), heavily restrict them (Annex B) or limit their inadvertent production as byproducts (Annex C).
In each case, there can be exemptions that allow certain uses to continue under specific conditions.
The pesticide Aldrin is, for instance, listed in Annex A for elimination. Under the convention its production has been totally banned, but the existing stocks of the pesticide can still be used under restricted conditions.
Any party to the convention can propose a new chemical to the convention’s subsidiary body, the POPs Review Committee, which can then forward the proposal to the next Conference of Parties to the Stockholm Convention to make a full decision.
The convention also aims to stop new persistent organic pollutants from being developed, and to eliminate stockpiles of obsolete ones.
The treaty is one of many Multilateral Environmental Agreements (MEAs). Its full title is the Stockholm Convention on Persistent Organic Pollutants and it entered into force on 17 May 2004.
The main journalistic storylines about the Stockholm Convention will relate to implentation of its rules, the fate of stockpiles of chemicals it controls, and the addition of new chemicals.
Good sources of information include the Stockholm Convention secretariat, which is the official home of the convention. Its website includes press releases, background information and contact details of officials in each country that is party to the convention.
The Earth Negotiations Bulletin provides daily reports during each Conference of Parties to the Stockholm Convention and is a good source of neutral information on each negotiating session.
The bulletin is produced by the International Institute for Sustainable Development, which also runs Chemicals-L, an email-based mailing list for news and announcements about chemical policy, which is another good source for journalists.
Journalists should assess any studies about chemicals proposed for inclusion in the convention very carefully, to identify how the research was funded and to get an independent scientific opinion on its findings.
Journalists should be aware of the vested interests that can influence decisions made under the Stockholm Convention. As a chemical can only be listed by consensus, countries that are major producers can be reluctant to allow the listing, even if the chemical is banned at home.
Chemical companies are also involved in the Stockholm Convention processes, lobbying for looser controls and publishing research that supports their case.
For industry perspectives, a dominant source is CropLife International, which represents the major multinational companies that produce pesticides.
For a nongovernmental perspective, sources include the International POPs Elimination Network (IPEN), a global alliance of more than 700 organisations.
IPEN has regional hubs and strategies for Anglophone Africa, Francophone Africa, Middle East, South Asia, South-East Asia and Latin America.
Another source is Pesticide Action Network, an alliance of over 600 organisations in 90 countries that has a number of regional offices.
A more general source of quality information on chemical safety is the UN’s International Programme on Chemical Safety (IPCS), a joint effort of the World Health Organization, International Labour Organization and UN Environment Programme.
CASE STUDY – DDT
DDT was developed in 1874 but it was not until 1939 that it began to be used as a pesticide, first to control insects that spread diseases such as malaria, and later to control crop pests.
Within two decades, however, there were growing concerns that the chemical was hazardous to people and the environment.
In 1962, US author Rachel Carson published Silent Spring, a book that claimed DDT was poisoning wildlife and posing serious threats to human health.
This triggered major scientific assessments of the threats which in time led to many countries banning or severely restricting the use of DDT, even if they continued to produce and export it.
Today DDT is listed in Annex B of the Stockholm Convention, meaning that rather than being banned, its production and use are merely restricted.
The convention states that DDT cannot be used to control agricultural pests but it can be sprayed indoors to control insects that spread malaria and other diseases.
Today, China, India and North Korea are the only nations that produce and export DDT, and other countries including many in Africa continue to use it to control malaria.
Stockholm Convention – official website
The Chemical Conventions Handbook – Stockholm Convention
Ridding the world of POPs: A Guide to the Stockholm Convention on Persistent Organic Pollutants [PDF]