Prevention, preparedness and response are key pillars of the UNECE Convention on the Transboundary Effects of Industrial Accidents which will celebrate its 20th anniversary of entry into force on 19 April 2020.
The Convention was negotiated in response to the 1986 Sandoz chemical spill, which put Switzerland in the spotlight of an environmental crisis. The spill released a 70km-long toxic red plume in the river Rhine, which travelled to France, Germany and even the Netherlands, killing flora and fauna, including hundreds of thousands of fish, on its way.
“As we are proudly celebrating the 20th Anniversary of the Convention, I count on our member States to step up their collaboration in industrial accident prevention and preparedness – at the national level, and across borders”, said UNECE Executive Secretary Olga Algayerova. “The current health and socio-economic crisis has once again proven that regional – and global – challenges have to be addressed jointly, based on an effective network, exchange of information, effective prevention and preparedness actions and the provision of mutual support and assistance.”
The Convention was signed in 1992 and entered into force 20 years ago – on 19 April 2000. The industrial safety community can be proud of many achievements:
- The Convention today counts 41 Parties (40 countries and the European Union) in the UNECE region.
- The Convention’s Assistance and Cooperation Programme so far supported 16 countries of Eastern, South-Eastern Europe, the Caucasus and Central Asia through about 120 activities, which trained more than 1,500 experts.
- 82% of all UNECE member States are actively committed to the Convention’s implementation either as a Party or, for Georgia, Ukraine, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan, as signatories to the 2005 High-level Commitment declaration under the Assistance and Cooperation Programme.
- 54 countries in the region have appointed competent authorities responsible for the implementation of the Convention – working closely and cooperating within their respective countries and across borders.
- The Convention has been shaping a region-wide industrial safety culture and community which actively interacts and supports its members in joining their efforts to develop effective policies and governance, monitor and improve industrial safety on the ground. As a legal instrument for technological disaster risk reduction, the Convention “offers insights to countries pursuing Sendai Framework commitments in technological risk management,” as confirmed by the 2019 Global Assessment Report for Disaster Risk Reduction.
- As a Centre of Excellence for Guidance development, the Convention developed numerous safety guidelines and good industry practices and checklists, ranging from sector-specific guidance (oil terminals, pipelines, tailings management facilities, firewater retention) to guidance addressing broader, cross-sectoral issues, e.g. on land-use planning and siting. Online training resources have also been also developed in partnership with other organizations.
- A wide range of good practices, collected through 9 rounds of implementation reporting, are available to inspire authorities in efforts to strengthen industrial safety.
- Enhanced transboundary cooperation, supported by several sub-regional projects, leading to joint inspections, table-top and field exercises, joint and harmonized contingency planning, the mapping of industrial facilities such as mine tailings, and the conduct of transboundary consultations.
- The Convention is a unique multilateral environmental agreement, with no equivalent in other world regions. However, the experience, expertise and practical guidance developed over the last two decades offer resources to support improved industrial safety far beyond the UNECE region.
While a lot has been achieved, much still remains to be done. Looking ahead, UNECE strives to enhance the Convention’s contribution as a legal instrument for technological disaster risk reduction to the realization of 2030 Agenda with its Sustainable Development Goals and the Sendai Framework for Disaster Risk Reduction.
The Convention’s Long-term strategy until 2030 calls for its full implementation, enhanced transboundary cooperation and an increasing attention on industrial safety “hot spots.” The next meeting of the Conference of the Parties (1-3 December, Bonn, Germany) will place a special focus on such a “hot spot” – namely the safety of mine tailings management facilities.
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