“Countries need to take concrete actions to prevent, prepare for and respond to industrial accidents and reduce the risks of related technological disasters. The UNECE Convention on the Transboundary Effects of Industrial Accidents and the tools developed for its implementation provide a means to do just that. Today’s seminar aims to raise awareness of the Convention’s tools, to demonstrate its implementation and to show cooperation across authorities and borders in doing so. As such, it provides a means to support countries in preventing future accidents, including with transboundary effects, and in mitigating their tragic consequences for people and the environment,” said Torill Tandberg, Chair of the Convention (Norway), in her opening of the UNECE seminar on good practices and lessons learned in implementing the Convention, which took place from 3-4 February 2022, in hybrid form from Geneva.
Today marks the closure of the Seminar, which was organized for the first time as a Special Session under the auspices of the Convention’s Working Group on Implementation, drawing on its analysis of national implementation reports, and good practices submitted by Parties. It brought together more than 100 participants from national authorities in the UNECE region and beyond, international organizations, NGOs, industry associations and academia, to provide a basis to learn about and exchange information on the Convention, discuss new and innovative approaches and ways forward to strengthening its implementation. Representatives of fifteen countries from the region presented their national implementation experience, including on cooperation with neighbouring or riparian countries which may be affected by accidents, through air or water. The seminar revealed that while good practices and guidance were available, significant challenges remained in the national implementation efforts by current Parties and future Parties, including committed countries in Eastern Europe, the Caucasus and Central Asia.
Among others, participants highlighted challenges in the implementation of some of the Convention’s key provisions, such as the identification of hazardous activities, including the hazards as well as risks at tailings management facilities (TMFs). They emphasized the importance of cooperation with neighbouring countries in the process of notification (i.e. information-sharing) of hazardous activities, through notification procedures, including those developed under the Convention, and regular consultations.
When it comes to the prevention of industrial accidents, participants recognized that the effects of climate change – i.e. rising temperatures, melting ice, extreme precipitation/pluvial flooding and other extreme weather events – can trigger industrial accidents, so-called Natech accidents (i.e. a technological accident triggered by a natural hazard), and that such events need to be prevented by strengthening risk management and preventive measures. They also acknowledged that cybersecurity was a growing concern due to the number of digital and automated control and power systems at industrial facilities. Information about the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland’s operational guidance to facilitate risk assessments and control measures on this matter was shared, which encouraged participants to further explore this new and emerging issue within the context of the Convention.
Participants further acknowledged that integrating technological disaster risk management into national (and local) disaster risk reduction strategies and policies under the Sendai Framework for Disaster Risk Reduction provides a strong basis to prevent industrial accidents and mitigate their effects, and recommended exploring the use of the Convention and its implementation tools for such integration. Portugal’s National Strategy for a Preventive Civil Protection (ENPCP) demonstrates how implementing the Convention can provide a basis for such integration and for national authorities to cooperate and coordinate on technological DRR under a larger DRR national platform – an example other countries can refer to.
Furthermore, several countries presented good practices in ensuring information was provided to the public, for example to react in a timely manner in case of accidents, and that the public has opportunities to participate in related decision-making. New technology has been developed in several countries for these purposes, which countries have been encouraged to make use of in the promotion of public information and participation: The Dutch tool Environmental Health Atlas | Environmental Health Atlas (atlasleefomgeving.nl), for example, is an online interactive map of hazardous activities. The maps can be used by the public within and across its borders to understand hazards and risks of nearby industrial facilities. Another example is the online platform Participa, through which the Portuguese public can initiate environmental decision-making procedures online.
The seminar shed light on the implementation of other core areas covered by the Convention, including emergency preparedness, response and mutual assistance; decision-making on siting and land-use planning; and scientific and technical cooperation and exchange of information.
Overall, participants recommended to make use of the good practices and lessons learned presented to foster the Convention’s implementation. To support their national efforts, they suggested the development of a “Guide of Good Practices in implementing the Convention”, to further explain its provisions and showcase concrete examples of countries implementing them, include those presented at the seminar. They also proposed the development of an interactive network of experts. The Chair of the Convention’s Working Group on Implementation, Ms. Helena Fridh (Sweden), concluded on a forward-looking note, stating that “I would like to call on Parties to make use of the good practices available, the experiences and the tools developed to progress towards the full implementation of the Convention, or to work towards accession as per its long-term strategy until 2030. I would also like to invite countries beyond the UNECE region to consider the Convention’s approaches and tools in their legal and policy developments, so as to reduce technological disaster risks, strengthen transboundary cooperation and protect our people and precious environment.”
More information on the seminar, organized with support from the Ministry of Infrastructure and Water Management of the Netherlands, is available at https://unece.org/info/Environmental-Policy/Industrial-Accidents/events/363317.
Each thematic session included an overview of relevant provisions of the Industrial Accidents Convention, gaps that the WGI identified in the ninth report on the implementation of the Convention 2016–2018, relevant actions contained in decision 2020/2 on strengthening the implementation of the Convention, country presentations on good practices and/or lessons learned in addressing those gaps or on addressing a new and emerging risk under the thematic session, and discussion between the moderator, presenters, secretariat and audience.
An overview of good practices reported by countries in their national implementation reports is available here: https://unece.org/environment-policyindustrial-accidents/overview-tables.
UNECE has developed further tools to provide guidance in implementing the Convention, such as the UNECE Information Repository of Good Practices and Lessons Learned in Land-Use Planning and Industrial Safety, the UNECE Guidance on Land-Use Planning, the Siting of Hazardous Activities and Related Safety Aspects and the UNECE Checklist for Contingency Planning for Accidents Affecting Transboundary Waters, among others.