This year marks the 30th anniversary of the UNECE Convention on the Transboundary Effects of Industrial Accidents. This unique international legal instrument, signed on 17 March 1992 and in force since 2000, helps to protect people and the environment from the devastating effects of industrial accidents. At the upcoming twelfth meeting of the Conference of the Parties (CoP-12) in Geneva on 29 November – 1 December 2022, Parties will take stock of progress made under the Convention and highlight ongoing and emerging challenges in preventing, preparing for and responding to industrial accidents.
Over the years, the Convention has established an active network among its 42 Parties and beneficiary countries of its Assistance and Cooperation Programme that have committed to the Convention’s implementation. In particular, it has provided a policy forum for countries to discuss industrial safety law- and policy-making, exchange good practices and lessons learned and foster progress. Countries in the pan-European region have developed and improved their industrial safety policies, improved cooperation across borders, and consequently, enhanced their disaster risk governance. The Convention has fostered a “safety culture” across the UNECE region, supported by the development of numerous Safety Guidelines, such as for pipelines, oil terminals, tailings management facilities, the management and retention of firefighting water and on land-use planning.
Addressing climate risks
While significant progress has been made, much work remains to address ongoing and emerging challenges. The increasing frequency and intensity of extreme weather events due to climate change will significantly impact our environment and affect human lives. The sixth IPCC Report on Impacts, Adaptation and Vulnerability highlights the substantial damages and increasingly irreversible losses already caused by climate change and the increasing difficulty and complexity of managing risks – which can be cascading and lead to natural hazards triggering technological disasters (known as "Natech” incidents).
Given the urgency to act, UNECE, together with OECD, is organizing a seminar on Natech risk management at CoP-12 to strengthen understandings of the link between natural hazards and technological risks in a transboundary context, and to exchange experience and good practices in managing these. This will support Parties and beneficiary countries in taking measures to better address emerging risks, interactions between climatic and non-climatic risk drivers and compounding effects in adapting to climate change.
War in Ukraine and energy transition among pressing industrial safety issues
The war in Ukraine has caused numerous industrial accidents - including from attacks on industrial facilities. Risks of further accidents are high, some of which could affect neighbouring and riparian countries. At the Conference, Parties will be invited to reaffirm their readiness to support Ukraine, particularly in view of its recent accession to the Convention this October, in addressing industrial safety challenges, now and during the country’s reconstruction and recovery.
Across the UNECE region and beyond, the war has led to a stark increase in energy prices and intensified efforts to secure alternative energy sources. Industry needs to ensure safety when switching energy supply sources and embarking on the use of new forms of energy, such as hydrogen. The Convention and related UN tools can provide important guidance in this regard. As countries strive for net zero emissions, policies and measures need to ensure a green transition that mitigates disaster risks and minimizes adverse consequences for human health and the environment, including from the extraction of the necessary mineral resources. These and other aspects will be discussed as “emerging risks and developments” during the Conference.
Strengthening future efforts
Parties will also be invited to endorse a Road map for action to strengthen mine tailings safety in countries of Eastern and South-Eastern Europe, the Caucasus and Central Asia. Countries in these sub-regions have made impressive progress in strengthening industrial including mine tailings safety. Serbia pioneered, as the first country in the region, a National Policy Dialogue on Industrial Safety, as a platform for cooperation and policy making among relevant authorities. Kazakhstan and Tajikistan formally established Inter-Institutional Working Groups on Tailings Safety and the Prevention of Accidental Water Pollution. Kazakhstan, Kyryzstan, Tajkistan and Uzbekistan have been cooperating across the Syr Darya river basin, aiming to develop joint measures to prevent and respond to pollution in emergency situations. These and other highlights of assistance activities will be shared at the upcoming CoP.
The Conference will review the achievements of the Convention over the last 30 years, along with the work in this biennium, and collectively look ahead to 2030, determining future directions, and reaffirming commitments, while addressing existing challenges.
More information on the meeting and its documentation materials are available at: https://unece.org/environmental-policy/events/twelfth-meeting-conference-parties.
More information about the UNECE/OECD Seminar on Natech risk management is available at:
UNECE/OECD Seminar on effective management of technological risks of accidents triggered by natural hazards | UNECE