In August 2015, massive explosions at a chemical warehouse in Tianjin, China, left some 139 people dead, more than 700 injured and 6,000 displaced, and damaged 17,000 homes in close proximity to the industrial site. Back in 2001, a chemical explosion at a warehouse in Toulouse, France, led to the death of 29 people and the evacuation of 90 schools. One year earlier, in 2000, as a result of an explosion in a fireworks factory in Enschede, the Netherlands, close to the German border, 22 people were killed, 500 houses or businesses were destroyed and 1,500 buildings were severely damaged.
These accidents show that insufficiently considering the risks associated with an economic activity in land-use planning may cost many lives and significant material losses. They are a reminder of the importance of sharing information about industrial hazards with land-use planners, so that safety distances to homes, schools and kindergartens are fully respected, and the public is informed of the existence of hazardous industrial activities.
But what can be done to avoid such accidents as early as possible, when developing land-use plans and deciding where to place hazardous installations? How can industrial safety be better integrated into environmental assessments undertaken to guide decisions on land-use planning, the siting of industrial installations and their modifications? How can the risks be properly assessed and prevented? And, last but not least, what is the role of strategic environmental assessment as a tool for preventing risks associated with industrial activity?
These questions were discussed by over one hundred policymakers and practitioners from the industrial safety, environmental assessment and land-use planning communities at the UNECE workshop on land-use planning, the siting of hazardous activities and related safety aspects, held on 13 April 2016 in Geneva. The workshop was organized under the Convention on the Transboundary Effects of Industrial Accidents (Industrial Accidents Convention) and the Protocol on Strategic Environmental Assessment to the Convention on Environmental Impact Assessment in a Transboundary Context (Espoo Convention), in collaboration with the UNECE Committee on Housing and Land Management and the European Investment Bank.
Participants shared experiences and lessons learned in integrating industrial safety considerations and environmental assessments in land-use planning. Several countries reported on their national processes, for example, detailing how safety considerations are integrated in environmental impact assessment and strategic environmental assessment reports. Participants highlighted the importance of cooperation and the effective flow of information between all stakeholders, including operators of hazardous activities and competent safety, planning and environmental and health authorities.
A number of challenges remain: in several countries, there is little or no integration of industrial safety considerations into environmental assessment, notably strategic environmental assessment at the planning stage, allowing for the early consideration of industrial risks in land-use planning. Lack of awareness, low enforcement levels and little experience from practical cases were also mentioned as challenges in integrating policies. Participants thus agreed that more needs to be done to work towards integration among the different processes. UNECE will support this endeavour by developing guidance for countries, enriched with the information exchanged at the workshop, to facilitate the implementation of the respective obligations under the Industrial Accidents Convention, the Espoo Convention and its Protocol. The guidance will also assist countries in working towards the 2030 Sustainable Development Goals, in particular target 11b — to support cities and human settlements in implementing integrated policies and plans towards resilience to disasters, such as industrial accidents, and reducing related disaster risks.
More information on the Joint workshop and the Guidance on land-use planning, the siting of hazardous activities and related safety aspects is available at: http://www.unece.org/index.php?id=41522#/
For more information on these activities, please contact:
Franziska Ilg-Hirsch, Secretary to the Industrial Accidents Convention ([email protected]), or
Aphrodite Smagadi, Secretary to the Implementation Committee of the Espoo Convention and its Protocol on Strategic Environmental Assessment ([email protected])
Note to editors:
UNECE provides the secretariat of the Industrial Accidents Convention, the Espoo Convention and the Protocol on Strategic Environmental Assessment. It also services the Committee on Housing and Land Management.
The 1992 Industrial Accidents Convention is designed to protect people and the environment against industrial accidents. It aims at preventing accidents from occurring, or reducing their frequency and severity and mitigating their effects if they should occur. In force since 2000, the Convention counts 41 Parties, which include, in addition to the European Union and 26 of its member States (excluding Ireland and Malta): Albania, Armenia, Azerbaijan, Belarus, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Kazakhstan, Monaco, Montenegro, Norway, Republic of Moldova, Russian Federation, Serbia, Switzerland and the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia.
In 2003, the Espoo Convention was supplemented by the Protocol on Strategic Environmental Assessment. Since its entry into force in 2011, the Protocol concretely helps to lay the groundwork for sustainable development: it ensures that Parties integrate environmental, including health, considerations and public concerns into their plans and programmes and, to the extent possible, also into policies and legislation, at the earliest stages. To date, the Protocol has 28 Parties: Albania, Armenia, Austria, Bulgaria, Croatia, Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, European Union, Finland, Germany, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Montenegro, Netherlands, Norway, Poland, Portugal, Romania, Serbia, Slovakia, Slovenia, Spain, Sweden, Ukraine and the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia.
The UNECE Committee on Housing and Land Management works to promote, among others, transparent and efficient land use, and property registration, in particular through its Working Party on Land Administration. The Committee adopted the Geneva UN Charter on Sustainable Housing which stipulates, among others, that housing should be planned, constructed and used in a way that minimizes environmental impact and promotes environmental sustainability. It is also involved in the preparation of guidelines for the pan-European region following the United Nations Conference on Housing and Sustainable Urban Development, in Quito, in October 2016 (Habitat III Conference), which will take account of the conclusions of the joint workshop.